Two former Apple Australia executives have leapt through a window of opportunity and into their own Newton World. Ex-Applers Steven Hall and Robin Simpsonare launching what they say will be Australia's first one-stop, retail shopping experience for Apple Newton products. The first Newton World store, located in Pitt Street in Sydney's CBD, will open at the end of this month, with further expansion planned for Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland.
"The whole reason we left lucrative careers with Apple to start our own business is that we believe there is a tremendous opportunity present," said Steven Hall, Newton World director. "Newton is Apple's best kept secret and starting Newton World makes it possible for us to do the things necessary to develop the product that we weren't able to do while at Apple."
Specifically, Hall is referring to the creation of what he calls a "centre of excellence" for selling Newton technology. "Anytime you're dealing with a new technology that is as powerful and has as many different applications as Newton, you've got to provide people with a level of skill and expertise as a sales and service organisation," Hall said. "In the past it's been virtually impossible for a reseller to devote the staff and resources necessary to become a Newton expert, and as a result, the product hasn't received the attention it needs to be successful - and it can be very successful.
"There's never been anywhere in Australia where you can buy anything and everything for Newton technology - from industry-standard compatible applications like word processors, databases and spreadsheets, to modems, games and accessories," Hall said. "We have 76 suppliers from around the world bringing in more than 150 different Newton products. Many of the products will be exclusive to Newton World, and in that sense, we'll end up as a wholesaler to other resellers.
"Historically, with this sort of technology you've bought the modem from one company, the computer from another, the airtime from another - and it still may not work," Hall said. "Where we see a specialty organisation such as ours fitting in is for someone to be able to come in and receive everything they need. We sell total solutions, not just the components."
At this point, no one would fault you for thinking "Newton? Wasn't that an abject failure?" And, in Hall's opinion, you wouldn't be far off. "I think it's fair to say the product was launched with a deafening thud. The potential and value of the product has always been there, but the performance hasn't. In the early days, the handwriting recognition component of the technology wasn't where it needed to be.
"Since then the product has, in some ways, gone underground and tremendous improvements have been made. In the last three years, Apple has gone through four different generations of Newton and it now works out of the box incredibly well. Battery life is nine times what it used to be; the amount of memory was tripled and then tripled again. This is a very, very powerful product," he said.
Hall says he and Simpson see great things on the horizon for Newton. "Within four years, sales of PDA devices will equal or exceed those of digital mobile phones, and the Newton is already in a position to replace notebook computers," Hall said. "Why carry a notebook or laptop? A notebook is two or three thousand dollars at the very least. It's light for the first 10 minutes and then it gets progressively heavier. Unless you need a laptop for extensive spreadsheets or presentations, the Newton can replace it for a fraction of the cost, you can carry it in your pocket."
As far as price goes, Hall says Newton World is selling Newton MessagePad 120s for $699, which Hall says is $300 below RRP. Newton World offers a special bundled solution consisting of a MessagePad 120 and a 14.4 PC card modem for $799. An advanced MessagePad 130 with expanded functionality sells for $1,395. "Unfortunately, there isn't mass production of Newtons and, therefore, the prices are still fairly high. The screen technology is almost 50 per cent of the cost and it is unlikely they'll get down to $400Ð$500 Australian dollars for a few years. But the functionality has improved so much, people are getting a tremendous amount of value.
"We believe the days of the standard organiser with its little kiddie keyboard and limited expansion capabilities are numbered," Hall said. "It may not happen this year, but certainly next year and the year after you'll see that evolution."
Hall says Newton can not only compete with players such as Sharp, HP and Casio on their own terms, it can provide added functionality. "Desktop connectivity is one area where Newton excels, another is communications. I can plug my Newton straight into my mobile phone or landline phone and have e-mail capability. I can even browse the Web. In fact, the Newton is the cheapest way someone can get on to the Internet," he said.
If the success of specialised Newton retail operations in other countries is anything to go by, Hall and Simpson may well be on to a good thing. In the US, Newton Source has been in operation for approximately 18 months with six stores in major centres such as New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The company has announced plans to have 22 Newton Source stores in operation within the next 13 months.
"In Tokyo, a Newton store opened a couple of months ago and they're selling 400 MessagePad 130s a week. They've written a Cangai language translation, which we'll also be selling here. That's one of the beauties of Newton - it can translate languages for you. You can write something in mandarin and have it faxed in English," Hall said.
Closer to home, Hall says Newton World is in the process of constructing a 40-seat theatre where the company will stage technology seminars free of charge to interested companies and individuals. "We're installing a $15,000 digital projection system for use in the theatre. There are so many vertical markets where Newton can be a powerful tool that what we'll be doing is inviting groups in to show them how Newton can be used for their specific needs," Hall said. "Companies which are interested will be able to borrow, free of charge, a Newton configured for their unique needs. Once they see what it can do for them, we think they'll be hooked."