Imagining an Apple netbook

Eleven years ago I was working in IT, doing systems management for the ill-fated interactive branch of a major textbook publisher. That summer I got my first look at a product that had debuted only a few months before, and as it turned out, wouldn't be part of Apple's product line for much longer. It was called the . With the steady rise of "netbook" laptops, I think it's high time for Apple to take another look at that product and recognize some of its great ideas and innovations.

The eMate 300 was doomed from the start. It was a product built on Apple's Newton operating system, a PDA before the PDA market had really formed. The eMate 300, along with the rest of the Newton product line, was discontinued--"Steved," as we said in those days--when Steve Jobs took the reins of the company back from then-CEO Gil Amelio in 1998.

But the eMate 300 was--and still is--a cool piece of tech. It featured a 480-by-320 pixel display, set in landscape orientation, inside a "clamshell"-style case, complete with stylus and keyboard. The eMate 300 was envisioned as a Newton for the classroom--a way to get computers into the hands of kids before Apple engineered the iBook. The device had no moving parts, and I remember Apple booth monkeys at Macworld Expo Boston, set up in a tent across the street from Boston's World Trade Center, dropping the eMate 300 onto concrete to show how tough it was.

The eMate 300 suffered the same fate as other Newton devices in early 1998. A lot of explanations have been put forth as to why--the Newton business wasn't making the money that Apple needed it to; the Newton itself reminded Steve Jobs too much of John Sculley, and so on. But the bottom line is that the eMate 300 really never had much of a chance for success.

Though I would, years later, get an eMate 300 on eBay. It sits in my office to this day.

So now we have the , and with each progressive , the device gets more robust. You can for it, and that number is increasing at an astounding pace. Apple has received plaudits from analysts, industry insiders and developers alike for creating an ecosystem that has let third-party iPhone developers flourish.