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Up next for Apple: the return of the Newton

Apple Inc, which helped spawn the PDA market with its Newton MessagePad line in the early '90s, plans to give the concept another go with a modern day reincarnation of the old fan favorite based on the company's new mutli-touch technology, AppleInsider has learned.

For Apple, the ongoing project represents its second stab at reinventing the PDA since the Newton met its fate in the late 90's — the first of which never saw the light of day and is only known to have existed based on a one-off comment from chief executive Steve Jobs over three years ago.

Speaking at the 2004 edition of the Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital conference, Jobs stated that he was proud not only of the products Apple had released in recent years, but also the products the company had decided not to ship.

When asked by an audience member to elaborate, Jobs said simply, "an Apple PDA."

It appears that Jobs and Co. never gave up hope, and instead returned to the drawing board. For the past 18 months, well-respected sources tell AppleInsider, a small team of Apple engineers have been at it again, this time tapping the company's revolutionary multi-touch technology as a foundation.

During that time, sources have observed the project slip in and out of limbo, as Apple struggled to meet its self-imposed June, 2007 launch date for the iPhone. In at least two instances, the company pulled software engineers off the project to assist in the completion of the iPhone software, only to return those same engineers to the their original task months later.

With the initial iPhone now out the door and two successive models well underway in Apple's labs, it's believed to be full steam ahead for the modern day Newton project. Like iPhone and the iPod touch, the new device runs an embedded version of Apple's Mac OS X Leopard operating system.

Externally, the mutil-touch PDA has been described by sources as an ultra-thin "slate" akin to the iPhone, about 1.5 times the size and sporting an approximate 720x480 high-resolution display that comprises almost the entire surface of the unit. The device is further believed to leverage multi-touch concepts which have yet to gain widespread adoption in Apple's existing multi-touch products — the iPhone and iPod touch — like drag-and-drop and copy-and-paste.

Artist rendition showing approximate size ratio to existing Apple handhelds | Artwork by audiopollution.

More broadly characterized as Apple's answer to the ultra-mobile PC, the next-gen device is believed to be tracking for a release sometime in the first half of 2008. Assuming the project remains clear of roadblocks, sources believe it could make an inaugural appearance during Jobs' Macworld keynote in January alongside some new Mac offerings. Still, manufacturing ramp and availability would seem unlikely until closer to mid-year, those same sources say.

As AppleInsider has hinted in recent months (1, 2), the next-gen PDA will signal the advent of a fifth core business segment (fourth if you discount Apple TV) for Apple, but at the same time represent just smidgen of what's to come from the company's new multi-touch platform, which has already proven to be a game-changer.

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