The forgotten eMate 300--15 years later

By Benj Edwards, Macworld |  Hardware, Apple, laptops

Those are all features that would be replicated a decade later in the highly publicized One Laptop Per Child initiative that produced the rugged, portable XO-1 laptop.

Interestingly, the eMate 300 did not gain significant traction in the educational sector, but the very features that Apple designed to appeal to school administrators--low cost, ease of use, ruggedness, and long battery life among them--ended up appealing to the government market in ways that Apple did not expect.

For example, in 1997, the Largo, Florida police department announced plans to outfit 20 of its patrol cars with eMate 300s for wireless arrest reporting from the field. A news report from that time also mentions that the department was waiting for Apple to produce a less-colorful "business version" of the eMate (which never happened). And according to one Newton fan page, Australia was planning to replace all of its government PCs with eMates, but Apple pulled the plug on the entire Newton line before that could happen.

Translucent accessibility

At the time of the eMate's release, all of Apple's desktop computers sported platinum gray cases, and its laptops came cloaked in charcoal gray. In the midst of that conservative color palette, Apple's Newton division brought forth a translucent dark emerald green computer with playful curves, bulbous corners, and a prominent carrying handle.

Frankly, it looked like a toy, and for good reason: It was an educational product, and Apple designed it to appeal to children. Translucency worked well in that regard. According to the eMate's primary enclosure designer, Thomas Meyerhoffer, Apple designed eMate's translucency to evoke a sense of accessibility--in that one could see the unit's interior components, and nothing would be hidden from the user.

Apple's pre-Steve Jobs experiments with translucent plastics, especially in the eMate 300, proved to be very important to Apple's fate. Without the eMate, there would have been no iMac--at least not what we recognize as the iconic early translucent models today.

A Newton PDA at heart

As a member of the Newton family, the eMate allowed users to draw or write (via handwriting recognition) with an included stylus on its 480-by-320 backlit grayscale LCD. It could run any software written for Newton OS 2.0, which also powered Apple's handheld MessagePad PDA devices.


Originally published on Macworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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