Pioneers seldom set standards…

In 1992 Hermann Hauser announced the ‘fourth wave’ of computing. The EO Personal Communicator was a handheld PC with a pen-sensitive LCD screen.

Pages of handwritten notes could be stored in memory and then searched, printed or sent by electronic mail or faxed with an inbuilt modem. If the words were written without joined-up characters the Communicator could convert them to computer text, and search for keywords.

AT&T was a partner and GO provided the Penpoint software. Matushita/Panasonic signed up to make Communicators in Chicago. EO courted Philips, Thomson and Nokia to try and set a world standard.

Apple was already working on Newton, a Personal Data Assistant that out-gunned EO. Newly-appointed CEO Michael Spindler formed a new division, with a new policy, to handle Newton.

Personal Interactive Electronics was run by Gaston Bastiaens, who had spearheaded the CD launch while at Philips. In 1993, when Spindler cut jobs at Apple by 15%, only PIE remained unscathed.

Whereas Apple had steadfastly refused to licence the Mac operating system, and thus given Bill Gates and Microsoft ten years to make Windows work, PIE actually tried licenced the Newton OS, with Sharp (which made Apple’s first Newton), Motorola, Cirrus Logic and Siemens all signing up. Apple courted Philips, and Sony. Hedging bets, Matsushita/Panasonic took a licence.

Newton promised to convert cursive (joined-up) handwriting into ASCII text. But the user had to learn to write in a way that Newton could interpret. Even then the result was often gibberish and Newton became a cartoon strip joke.

Visitors to Apple’s HQ in Cupertino were treated to “Newton experience” – put in a room with a Newton, encouraged to make frank comments and filmed making them. Woe betide anyone who said paper and pencil were far easier to use. But Apple soon had to sell an add-on keyboard.


Microsoft developed the Windows CE OS for handheld PCs and promised to use it in a Palm PC – with conversion of joined-up writing into PC text.

Apple dropped Newton, and the EO is long forgotten. But Apple went on to other things, and did rather well with them.