Want a look at the future of personal computing? Try Newton, a personal digital assistant being developed by Apple Computer Inc.
The sleek, black, suit-pocket-sized machine is designed for everyone from business people to students to whoever wants to take notes, make appointments, sketch, summon information and communicate with distant computers and faxes.
Apple started to develop this machine in response to several strong trends. One was the increasing digitization of information: Words, numbers, sounds, pictures -- all are being stored and manipulated as bits these days. Another was the unfulfilled promise of personal computers: They're still too hard to use, so the average person ends up using a word processor or spreadsheet and little else.
Apple's thinkers asked people what information they wanted to handle, watched what they used, tested ideas on them.
The result: We don't want to compute. We want to get things done. We don't want to take a data base management program in hand, write scripts and forms, design reports and create macros. We want to note, sketch, scribble and look up.
We don't want to network or groupware; we want to call, fax and save. And we don't need to do these things just at a desk, after starting the PC, logging on to the net, firing up the printer, running a program, loading a file and placing the cursor. We want to do it wherever we are, whatever else we're doing.
Most important, we don't want to read manuals, study menus, practice commands, learn to type or memorize option codes. We just want to grab, keep, grasp, organize and share information now, using skills we already have.
The Apple planners noticed the surging popularity of portable and hand-held electronics from notebook PCs to organizers and palm-top computers: Casio and Sharp have sold hundreds of thousands of their BOSS and Wizard organizers.
Sony has spread palm-top computers all over Japan.
Another trend was the widespread fever for pen computing, with old and new companies designing personal computers that shed keyboards in favor of pen input.
These have display screens you can write on with a stylus, backed up by software that can translate your writing into computer information.
Add to those trends the fear that the computer market had matured, meaning stagnated, and you have the motivations to design a new device.
It would be personal (portable, able to be customized) and digital (so it could handle all sorts of information), and would not only be, according to Apple, "extraordinarily easy to use," but would help users by interpreting what they want with minimum direction.
You could see Newton as just a tiny personal computer, but Apple insists that isn't so. Like a computer, it has a microprocessor, memory and programs. But it doesn't have a keyboard or share any software with Macintoshes or with PCs.
The Newton's software will be key to its success, including its ability to recognize handwriting and sketched graphics.
For a closer look at Newton, you'll have to wait. The product, which Apple says will cost under $1,000, won't be available until early 1993.