Newton UI

by Scott Shwarts and David Dunham

Pensee Corporation

The gold rush is on. Publishers have announced their Newton applications. Developer's fingers are dancing over their keyboards writing them. Unfortunately for each new application that draws admiring praise, there'll be two that get a deserved boo. Why? Because the marketeers and designers just didn't get what the Newton is all about.

The Newton is not a computer

The Newton is a consumer device. Oh sure the first wave of buyers will be technoids like us, but if Apple is successful, we expect to see a lot of Newtons from the board room to the shopping mall. Meaning that products need a consumer focus. We don't mean you should design down to consumers-- they're not stupid. But they don't have the tolerance many of us do for our computers.

Remember who your customers are

Decide early on who your customer is and design for them. Think about their entire daily interaction with the Newton with your application as part of it. Too many applications get designed as if they were alone on the Newton instead of one part of a Newton filled with lots of information and other applications. Remember today's Newton only has one PCMCIA card slot.

Understand the interface

The Newton comes with its own user interface guidelines. It can be found in the built-in Names, Dates and Extras applications. Use the Newton, and learn from those before you. This is what your users will know too. Does the Newton have some inconsistencies? Yes, so try to understand them. If you're thinking of porting your existing computer applications to the Newton, don't bother--it won't work and you'll only waste time. Note to product development managers: Get your developers their own Newtons and give them the time to play!

If you must, extend

Don't be too quick to invent some new screen gadget. Think first how to extend what is there already. If you do invent something new, make sure it fits into the feel of Newton. For example, the Names application allows the entry of lots of information using little screen space. This is an obvious technique to extend.

Features are not sacred

Try really hard to keep your application simple. Users want to use your application, not learn to use your application.The Newton team spent a lot of time taking things out of the built-in applications to keep them simple and straightforward.

Don't make assumptions

Not all Newtons will have the same screen size. Not all Newtons are owned by Americans.


Elements that get user interaction should stand out. That's why the System font is used for controls. Unless space is very tight, use text instead of graphics to label buttons. Remember also that not all owners have good eyesight. Be sure to show your users where they can tap with the button look or a diamond and if the user can write, there should be dotted lines.

Be a guest

Consider your application as a guest in the user's home. Don't waste the homeowners resources (like memory) and don't leave your laundry strewn about (leaving unneeded soups around). Do be helpful to the owner though like remembering the state they left your application in--just don't keep it around past the life of your application.

Looks count

Be nit picky about your application. Fight over pixels if you have to. Hire a graphic designer but don't accept form over function. Consumers expect your application to have the same clean, effective look as the rest of the Newton.

Talk amongst yourselves

More than ever the Newton needs a community behind it. Agree on ways to share the Newton's limited screen and memory resources. Want an example? How about a single soup that all game developers put their high score frames in. Encourage other developers to adopt your interface extensions.

Designing truly useful products that deliver a functional and attractive interface is indeed a challenge. It's up to us in the development community (with the right amount of nurturing from Apple) to rise to this challenge. Remember, people will buy your program to do work, not so they can use the features. Your application, if successful, will become an intimate part of their lives.

Copyright ©1993 Pensée Corporation

Scott Shwarts and David Dunham are principals in Pensée Corporation. Pensée worked for the past five years with the Newton team at Apple. They can be reached at and

Last updated 14 Oct 96 drd

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