Flight of the Newtons: a tale of Product-Market Fit

Chad McAllister recently posted a great summary of some of the core Quantitative Product-Market Fit concepts on the Everyday Innovator blog. In his post, he mentions the Apple Newton as an example of a product that failed to achieve product-market fit. As he says, it was packed with innovation but did not succeed with customers. There were a lot of reasons. McAllister cites the awkward size and easily-lost stylus. I would add the high price and dependence on handwriting recognition that never worked as well as it had to. But let’s allow the poor thing rest in peace.

I bring it up because McAllister’s mention of the Newton reminded me of my first experience with that product, back when it was unveiled at MacWorld Boston in 1993. My flight back to San Francisco from Boston was packed with Silicon Valley execs on their way home (including Apple CEO John Sculley, who hid behind a copy of the National Enquirer for most of the flight). Most of the execs were playing with their new Newtons. It was amazing to look down the rows (in first class anyway) and see a Newton in every other seat.

Fast forward 17 years to the release of the first iPad in 2010. It seemed that within just a few weeks, every plane flight I boarded was packed with people staring at their iPads. They are now so ubiquitous they sometimes seem to provide most of the illumination in the cabin!

The very high product-market fit of the iPad has made it a common sight on virtually every plane flight in the world today.  Which was true for the Newton only once: on that flight back to California from MacWorld Boston in 1993.

– Matt Brocchini

2 comments

  1. John Russell

    If the Newton was a precursor to the iPhone/iPad, what could be easier to use than an iPad? The merit of Google Glass and the significance of ubiquitous video, via YouTube for example, may give us a hint as to the possible future. Or are we we going to see a backlash from the loss of privacy and the government’s access to our data in the cloud? Moving to where the puck is going to be is so important but timing is the trick.

    • Matt Brocchini

      John, thanks for your comment. To answer your question regarding Google Glass, I’d start by trying to identify the Customer Value Model at work. Who is Google Glass for, and what do they value? That’s always the starting point.

      I don’t know what the answer is, but I would say that the good news for Glass is that the customer value model probably includes dimensions such as “I want my information whenever I want it.” The bad news is that it probably also includes the dimensions “I don’t want everyone to think I am constantly spying on them” and “I don’t want to look like a friggin’ techno hipster idiot.”

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