Time has an interesting twenty-year retrospective on the Apple Newton, the original PDA, by Harry McCracken. McCracken had never used the device when it was around the first time, so he bought one on eBay and used it for a couple of weeks as an experiment. His report of his experience, a sort of review from twenty years on is by and large not terribly relevant to e-books in and of itself, but it does point out that the Newton’s greatest legacy might have been the way it prompted some software developers for it to strike out on their own and create their own company, Palm.

If the Newton launched the PDA, Palm got it to orbit, and in turn Palm’s fingerprints are all over the iPhone and iPod Touch. But if Palm lasted longer than the Newton’s six years, and is probably in large part responsible for the first, embryonic e-book craze, it didn’t hold its dominance very long into the era of the smartphone.

When Hewlett-Packard bought the ailing company a little over two and a half years ago, it was thought that HP and Palm might have a synergy together that would let them give Apple a run for its money—but instead it went from the talk of CES 2009 to (as HP’s webOS division) completely irrelevant in just 31 months. The Verge has a lengthy, in-depth behind-the-scenes look at what went wrong, following the company from its revival efforts in the mid 2000s all the way to the departure of most of the webOS team for Google last month. Again, not a lot to do with e-books directly, but watching the slow self-destruction of the last tattered remnants of the company that kicked off the original e-book craze is strangely compelling. (Found via Slashdot.)

Of course, no device is truly dead as long as it has its devotees. In 2008 I mentioned some hardcore Newton fans who still kept their devices running and wished for something a bit more like that device in form factor. (It was only a couple of years later that the iPad launched, and the Newton fan’s desire for “something like an iPhone or G1 but with a screen the size of the Newton 2100 or slightly larger” does seem a bit prophetic in hindsight.)


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