When Garry Trudeau mocked the Apple Newton in Doonesbury for its poor handwriting recognition, he did a lot to doom the device. At that moment, the device became unable to take seriously. So that even when it was improved in later versions, it carried with it the stigma of… mockery.
I’ve thought about that when thinking about the Segway Human Transporter. Perhaps the most hyped product launch in the history of mankind, the Segway had about a week of maybe seeming cool. Then it kind of was forgotten. But then a couple years ago, with the debut of Arrested Development, we had brilliant product placement for the Segway. It’s the way that GOB, the self-involved terribly magician, gets around.
Could we ever take the Segway seriously again?
Yes, Peter, but is it the fault of the mocker, or the mocked? Personally, I think both products were overhyped to begin with. It was the ridiculously unchecked benefit claims that ultimately doomed both products when they couldn’t actually deliver.
It’s also likely that both products are simply ahead of their time — representing the bleeding edge of technology trends — and even more important, weren’t something anybody actually needed. Healthy adults shouldn’t be riding, they should be walking — the obesity research tells us so. The Newton made a great toy but there are few real world problems it actually solved.
I think providing something that people need is a bigger marker of future success than providing something that’s cool.
The Newton was also deftly spoofed in a 1994 episode of the Simpsons. One of the bullis is asked to make a note to “Beat up Martin.” The Newton reders it as “Eat up Martha.”
I think the Newton was simply foreshadowing of better products to come. While I don’t know anybody who ever owned a Newton, even my mom has a Pilot. When the Newton came out, it was a pretty uber-geeky thing. 10 years later we got a similar product that actually achieved mass-market penetration.
Maybe in ten years we’ll have a Segway like product that people will actually use. Personally, I wish the bicycle would catch on a bit better.
i used, and still own (but don’t use), 2 newtons. the newton was great for managing contacts, calendar, and documents.
it had a one-way text pager card and i had card to use for slow wireless internet access on it (not the same as wireless internet technology that is available today).
it kept me entertained in airports, i played games on it, i beamed info back/forth between other newton users, i developed software for it, i kept and managed some work documents on it, i managed some of my email on it, i used it for many of the same things i use a treo today.
my cellphone at that time was a brick and the newton was also big and heavy compared with today’s handhelds (my laptop also weighed a lot in the early 90’s).
all of my work colleagues at the time (early 90’s, at&t) used big bulky paper books to manage contacts, calendar and similar information and hauled around file folders with documents. i had one small (“small” for the early 90’s) handheld computer with all of it.
the newton was sexy.
Some have taken it seriously enough to make a successful business out of it: http://www.citysegwaytours.com. But maybe it was about taking the mockery seriously. I can visualize the Parisens rolling their eyes as American turists roll by in their Segways under the Eiffel Tower.
It seems like some have take it seriously enough: http://www.citysegwaytours.com Though they probably took the mockery rather than the product seriosly in order to make a successful business out of this; people like being goofy. I can even see the Parisiens rolling their eyes as American tourists ride by the Eiffel Tower in their Segways.
i am always watching for any product launch on the internet as i am a gadget addict myself.”‘~