A glimpse into alternate tech history with the Apple Newton

A glimpse into alternate tech history with the Apple Newton

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Image: Getty Images/Science & Society Picture Library

One of my archetypal memories is watching the archetypal lunar landing, truthful it's not astonishing I've been glued to Apple TV's For All Mankind, with its alternate past of a abstraction contention that didn't extremity with Apollo 17. 

It's a fascinating drama, tracing the improvement of moonbases, abstraction stations, atomic abstraction craft, and present successful the 3rd season, competing missions to Mars arsenic commercialized abstraction question adds itself to the rivalry betwixt the USA and Russia.

It's an absorbing premise, looking astatine a past wherever the continuing abstraction contention meant the Cold War continued into the 90s, and wherever inexpensive vigor from the satellite has restructured the planetary economy. 

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Thirty years of space-driven exertion changes person meant that the satellite of For All Mankind successful play 3 is precise antithetic from ours, yet inactive recognisable. Many of the changes look small, but amusement that determination person been immoderate precise cardinal developments successful computing and networking that enactment the show's computing infrastructure astatine slightest a decennary up of wherever we were successful the 90s, hidden underneath an unchanged plan aesthetic. 

Some of those changes are reminders of paths that were astir taken, wherever a displacement successful investments oregon successful standards could person driven exertion successful caller ways. It's a storytelling attack reminiscent of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (a movie the amusement regularly tips its chapeau to), wherever abstraction shuttles took radical to abstraction stations and beyond, but wherever they were flown by the present long-gone PanAm and wherever videophones were tally by the archetypal iteration of AT&T.

The different week I sat down to drawback up connected episodes and spotted an absorbing portion of that inheritance technology: video phones based connected Apple's Newton that intelligibly aren't a novelty to the show's characters. What amazed maine the astir was a reminder of a long-forgotten task I was progressive with backmost successful the aboriginal 1990s.

At the time, the Newton was cutting edge-technology, based astir an aboriginal mentation of ARM's RISC processor, with its ain NewtonScript programming situation and an object-based record system. Yes, it had handwriting recognition, but that wasn't what made it absorbing to anyone moving successful the ubiquitous computing tract astatine the time. What was astir absorbing was that it managed to battalion debased powerfulness depletion (for the time) into a tiny signifier origin arsenic portion of a level that was intelligibly designed to beryllium acceptable for high-speed wireless networks.

The devices that the For All Mankind accumulation squad built for the amusement (which were 3D-printed shells wrapped astir iPhones) are a 90s NewtonPhone, with the summation of cameras and high-speed networking.

Tech advances faster successful 1990s @forallmankind_ alt-history! All america @Apple nerds had a blast creating (& playing with) our modified Newton's removable camera & video calls! Props adjacent acceptable an #iPhone 12 Pro Max inside. The #Newton POV angles successful the amusement were #shotoniphone #Apple pic.twitter.com/wASQcG7Qw9

— Ben McGinnis (@bengmcg) June 23, 2022

And that's wherever I travel into the story, benignant of. The European Union has a programme of probe grants designed to promote the European exertion industry. I'd conscionable finished moving connected a task that investigated whether the early integer cordless telephone technology, CT2, could beryllium utilized to present wireless networking successful offices, and our radical pb asked maine to look astatine however we could enactment with a consortium of different companies to bid for a grant.

The aboriginal 90s were a heady clip for the telecom industry. We could spot however integer technologies would alteration however it worked, with a displacement from wired to wireless astatine the bosom of the networked satellite we were building. Every week I'd beryllium successful the lab's room speechmaking caller papers describing caller technologies and protocols from IEEE journals arsenic the standards that are the bedrock of today's planetary web were being defined.

One of those technologies was HiperLAN. Designed astatine the aforesaid clip arsenic the archetypal IEEE 802.11 wireless standard, it mixed a tiny compartment attack to networking with higher information rates than the archetypal 802.11 systems, aiming for much than 5mbps. That mightiness look dilatory by today's standards, but this was 1994. I spent immoderate clip moving retired however we could usage Asynchronous Transfer Mode protocol to supply connectivity to wireless devices, utilizing a modification of the KA9Q amateur vigor IP networking protocols arsenic they offered a mode of managing connections connected the aforesaid frequence erstwhile determination is nary enactment of tract betwixt galore transmitters and receivers.

We worked to suggest what my archetypal presumption insubstantial called a "handheld multimedia device", which would usage HiperLAN to present manuals and different documents, utilizing the Newton arsenic the ground of our team's device.

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Towards the extremity of the archetypal signifier of the task I came crossed the Cornell University's CU-SeeMe project, the archetypal elemental video-conferencing application. It utilized low-cost video cameras from Connectix to adhd video chat to Macintosh computers, and could enactment implicit low-bandwidth networks. So we threw it into the mix, suggesting that our Newton-based instrumentality could beryllium fitted with a camera to let engineers to amusement problems to each different and stock solutions. It was, I retrieve reasoning astatine the time, a neat idea.

Then I was offered an enticing occupation elsewhere, handed successful my notice, and headed disconnected to physique a portion of the user internet. I'm not definite what happened aft I left; I fishy the task ne'er got the backing and it got mislaid successful the files. 

The Newton was cancelled – excessively big, dense and costly – and truthful went nary further either, adjacent though astatine 1 constituent Qualcomm tried to transportation Apple to enactment a Qualcomm vigor into it to make an aboriginal smartphone contender 

Over the years I forgot that project, until I turned connected the Apple TV watercourse and saw it there, an alternate mentation of a instrumentality I'd projected each those years ago, being utilized to marque a video telephone to a spacecraft.

And present I cognize what I would person made successful that alternate universe.