Apple on March 4 will introduce the Newton MessagePad 110, an improved version of the much ridiculed Newton MessagePad personal communicator.
The new model will be aimed squarely at business, with targeted ads promoting what the device can do for professionals. That's in contrast to a broad TV and print campaign last fall that asked "What is Newton?" but provided only oblique answers.
The new campaign starts later this week in The Wall Street Journal and then moves to computer publications. Apple is also said to be preparing to advertise this spring in publications reaching sales people, such as Sales & Marketing Management. As early buyers of notebook computers, sales people are logical candidates for the very portable personal communicators.
Neither Apple nor agency BBDO Worldwide, Los Angeles, would comment.
MessagePad 110 is a refinement of the first Newton with a better battery, improved software and a cover to keep the screen from getting smashed, say executives who have used it.
"It's better than the original, but it's not the solution," said a corporate computer buyer who was shown the new model. The buyer's verdict: "I don't think it will go anywhere."
Another executive compared the second Newton with the second Macintosh computer model, an interim product Apple introduced shortly after the underpowered original Mac made its debut in 1984.
Apple last fall spent more than $3 million in advertising on major TV programs such as ABC's "NFL Monday Night Football" and in magazines as broad as People to introduce a product category (personal communicators), a technology standard ("Newton Intelligence") and a product (Newton MessagePad). It was mass media for a product with limited appeal.
By yearend, Apple said it had shipped 80,000 Newton MessagePads, well below the expectations of some analysts.
Newton, meanwhile, became synonymous with flop. The first model didn't live up to the hype of then-Chairman John Sculley, little software was available and its most notable feature-the ability to convert handwriting to type-was flawed.
But now, Mr. Sculley is gone (see story on Page 31). Intriguing software, such as an electronic Fodor's guide that can recommend a restaurant and offer directions, and add-on products to handle faxes, e-mail and paging are now on the market. And the new model's handwriting recognition, while still far from perfect, is improved, the corporate buyer said.
These improvements, coupled with a strictly business ad campaign, could breathe life into Newton. That would buy time for Apple to develop new models and to license the "Newton Intelligence" technology standard to other computer and consumer electronics marketers. Apple has signed a number of licensees, and one, Sharp Electronics Corp., is marketing a version of the first Newton MessagePad.
Technology watchers say Newton could still be a contender in the burgeoning field of personal communicators, handheld computer-based devices with communications capabilities.
Apple needs a solid hit with the new model to stay in the game. The stakes are getting higher: Newton will face new competition on March 7 when, according to news reports, Motorola will introduce the first personal communicator to use the operating system software of General Magic, a software developer.
Apple spun off General Magic several years ago and still owns an interest. Now, General Magic and Newton are vying for the same market.