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Apple's Tablet: Newton Redux?

Apple's soon-to-launch Tablet is remarkably reminiscent of the company's failed Newton.

CUPERTINO, Calif. (TheStreet) -- Next week, after two years of suspense and speculation, Apple (AAPL) will finally lift the curtain on its sleekly monolithic Tablet (or iSlate, or iPad).

Apple's bold entry into the tablet game could be as monumental as the company's last attempt to bring an e-notepad to the mobile masses, known as the Newton MessagePad.

The Newton -- a stylus-driven grayscale touchscreen device -- was first announced in 1992. More than a year later, it was introduced for sale by then-CEO John Scully as the first of what he called personal digital assistants (or PDAs).

The 7.5-inch, one-pound device was an inspired design that could, among other things, beam information via infrared rays to other Newtons within a three-foot range.

To some tech observers, the hotly anticipated Apple Tablet has more than a few parallels to the dreamy, somewhat comical and ultimately failed Newton.

Touchscreens, Part II

Newton users could jot down notes, mark calendars and even draw pictures on an unlit screen, ushering in an era of electronic notes. Apple Tablet users will be able to do all that and more on a brilliant color screen, ushering in a bigger multi-touch generation of devices.

Tech Breakthrough, Part II

The Newton had a fax modem -- a huge advantage at a time that predated email attachments. The Tablet promises to be a multimedia powerhouse delivering high-def, cinema-like entertainment to a mobile device.

Sized Wrong, Part II

The Newton was too big to fit in a pocket. The Tablet is even bigger, falling into that lug-it-or-leave-it category of portability.

Keyboard Free, Part II

Handwriting recognition was a huge feature for the Newton, but it failed to answer the nagging question of how easily users could import information. The not-so-accurate translation of scribbles-to-words provided great fodder for comedy in its day. The Tablet will take another stab at handwriting recognition, offering a virtual keyboard and speech recognition to compensate for a lack of keys to tap.

New Category, Part II

The Newton debuted with honors as the first PDA. The Tablet hopes to invent its own category that falls somewhere between the mobile phone and notebook computer.

Three years after the Newton arrived, the




was introduced. With its smaller, pocketable size and much tinier price, it quickly took over the category. In 1998, after five years of lackluster sales, Apple killed the Newton.

To be sure, the Newton still enjoys a cult following among some tech geeks and a number of Web sites have been dedicated to its important place in gadget history.

Apple hopes the Tablet isn't a repeat of Newton's story.

-- Written by Scott Moritz in New York

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