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Newton News

Over the past few months, several interesting events have happened in the world of the Newton, and since no Newton experts have stepped forward to discuss them, I figured I would. I have and use a Newton, one of the original MessagePads that were sold for about $199 a year or so back. I like my Newton, but I only use it for one thing - keeping track of present lists in Notion, which came with the bundle I bought. With Tonya's birthday in late September, mine in mid November, and Christmas in late December, I use the Newton about four months each year. I don't keep contact or event information on it since I seldom go anywhere, and when I do travel I take a PowerBook with Now Contact and Now Up-to-Date files on it.

In some sense then, I'm the perfect Newton user. I don't pretend it's a computer, I don't expect it to act like a computer, and I don't expect Apple to treat it as a computer. It's a simple organizational tool for me, since I don't lose it during the eight months when I sporadically add items to the present lists.

Apple's main Newton news is that they've released version 2.0 of the Newton operating system to fairly impressive fanfare. Newton 2.0 won the Best of COMDEX award in the Operating System category at November COMDEX in Las Vegas. For that, Apple deserves credit, especially on a platform that hasn't received widespread acclaim, despite having been lampooned in Doonesbury, the Simpsons, and many other places for its handwriting recognition gaffes.

Newton 2.0 reportedly improves the Newton's handwriting recognition significantly, so much so that people reported ceasing to use Graffiti, a utility that required you to modify slightly the way you wrote a few characters in exchange for almost perfect recognition. Newton 2.0 can now switch into landscape mode, which is no doubt more appropriate for certain applications. Other enhancements include a better human interface, a "comb-style" correction picker (to make correcting a single misinterpreted letter easier), better performance, more consistent treatment of unrecognized "ink," and an optional keyboard for more serious text input.

The catch, of course, is that Newton 2.0 only works with the MessagePad 120, and not with any previous versions of the MessagePad. Current MessagePad 120 owners can have their MessagePads upgraded to Newton 2.0 for $109 (call the Apple Assistance Center at the number below), but owners of all other versions of the MessagePad can take comfort only in a $100 rebate on a new MessagePad 120 with the new operating system (call the Newton Information Service at the number below).

I admit it's somewhat disappointing to see Apple charging for the upgrade for MessagePad 120 owners and only giving older MessagePad owners a $100 rebate, but I think that's my computer experience talking. When you buy a normal appliance, you're lucky if you get any rebate upgrading to a better model, and in most cases I doubt you'd get much. The simple fact of the matter is that the Newton I have now does what I want it to do acceptably, and that's good enough for the amount of money I paid. Those who bought the original MessagePad at full price and use it constantly for everything it can do - much as one might use a computer - are probably far more irritated than I about the upgrade policies.

So should you spend money on the upgrade or a new MessagePad? The answer depends on how you use your Newton. If it's essentially a computer to you, then yes, you will likely find the new functionality compelling. If, however, you're more like me and use the Newton as a secondary appliance, then, no, I don't think you should upgrade, assuming you're happy with your Newton. There are features I'd want in the Newton, but mostly I'd like to see different form factors and case designs. That's when I'll spend the money and retire my elderly MessagePad.

For an article from the December Apple Directions newsletter about Newton 2.0, check the URL below. /newton.html

Apple Assistance Center -- 800/767-2775
Newton Information Service -- 800/909-0260


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