Apple introduced the eMate on March 7, 1997. The eMate was sold primarily to the education market as sort of a low-cost laptop that Apple claimed to be a "new class of mobile computer designed for learners of all ages". It originally cost about $749 US. Apple also sold an 8-pack bundle of eMates for $5599 US. We acquired our eMate in 2007 for $45 US. It was new old stock and had never been removed from its packaging.

eMate with box and all contents

The eMate is a Newton personal digital assistant (PDA) running the Newton Operating System. Newton OS is the operating system Apple used for its short-lived Newton PDAs that were introduced in 1993 and discontinued early in 1998. One of the Newton's most compelling technologies is its handwriting recognition engine that could turn hand written characters scribbled onto the Newton touch sensitive screen with a stylus into words that could be understood and/or formatted by the OS. Newton OS is designed for efficiency and low power consumption, and like classic Mac OS, much functionality and even some of its apps are hard coded to ROM to save on limited DRAM and Flash space in the mobile Newton PDAs. The eMate 300 originally shipped with Newton OS 2.1.

The eMate 300 was a new concept Apple brought to the Newton line of PDAs. Apple invented the personal digital assistant class of digital electronic products with the release of the Newton MessagePad in 1993. Apple would go on to progressively improve the MessagePad and ultimately released six different variants between 1993 and 1997. The MessagePad is basically a small rectangular device with a touch sensitive screen that uses a stylus as the main means of input. The stylus is a pen shaped plastic rod with a point designed to facilitate writing or pointing on the Newton's touch sensitive screen. Unlike the MessagePads, the eMate has a built in keyboard and has a chassis more like a small laptop than a PDA.

eMate 300 keyboard

Apple's goal was to put the eMate 300 into the hands of as many children as possible by getting them into every classroom in the country. Apple coined the phrase "Distributed Learning Environment" to describe the eMate's role in education (more on that below). It was marketed as a low-cost alternative to expensive laptops. The eMate 300 is unlike any other portable device on the market in 1997. It is designed to take abuse that would destroy any PowerBook or MessagePad. It has a rugged translucent shell to protect it from the inevitable drops off desktops or from being cracked in a backpack stuffed between books. It hides all its circuitry under this tough shell to prevent any dirt, food, drinks, or water from shorting out the machine. The shell itself is a beautiful translucent green color that portends to the release of the clamshell iBook in 1999.

What is a Distributed Learning Environment?

A Distributed Learning Environment provides learning for anyone, anytime, anywhere. It extends the reach of learning from the classroom to the library, lab, home, local communities, and the world. In the best Distributed Learning Environments, educators and students are able to take full advantage of a range of technology to make the extended learning environment more meaningful, effective, and engaging.

Four elements for successful learning

Apple's support of the Distributed Learning Environment concept is based on its commitment to four critical elements of successful learning experiences:

  • Information access.
    Students and teachers need convenient access to information no matter where it resides.

  • Communication and collaboration.
    Students and teachers need to be able to communicate and collaborate with other students, colleagues, and experts, anytime, anywhere.

  • Multisensory experiences.
    Students and teachers need multimedia tools for understanding and expression, in addition to traditional educational methods, to help them communicate ideas in the way that is most appropriate to the task and compatible with diverse learning styles.

  • Convenient, mobile tools.
    Students and teachers need personal learning materials (pencils, books, calculators, etc.) that are convenient, creative, and mobile support tools.

The eMate 300 uses a 25 MHz ARM 710a RISC processor. It has 3 MB of RAM (1 MB of DRAM and 2 MB Flash memory) and 8 MB of ROM. DRAM memory is used as randon access memory while Flash memory is used for storage in the same way a hard drive is used in any Mac. Third party vendors like NewerRAM sold expansion models such as the 2 MB Memory Module to expand internal memory.

The eMate has the following expansion slots:

  • PC Card slot for Type 1, Type II, or Type III PC Cards, also called a non-CardBus PCMCIA slot (usually used to add a modem or extra storage)

  • One internal slot for expanding memory located in the hatch under the battery door, next to the ROM card

The eMate has the following ports:

  • Infrared (IrDA) port for transferring data wirelessly at up to 115 KB per second within 3.3 feet

  • Serial port for connecting to printers, Mac OS or Windows-based computers, or LocalTalk networks

  • Newton InterConnect serial port for LocalTalk and RS-232-compatible serial connections, modem, power input/output and sound input/output

eMate 300 next to a PowerBook 165c

The eMate 300 has a built-in rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) battery that is capable of up to 24 hours of continuous use without recharging (depending on usage). The eMate 300 shipped with an AC power adapter, CD containing connection software, serial connections cables (one for PCs and one for Mac OS-based systems), a stylus pen, and user's guide and other documentation.

The eMate 300 has a 480 x 320 pixel gray-scale LCD with backlighting. It is capable of displaying up to 16 shades of gray and is touch sensitive allowing inputs directly on the screen using the included stylus. The eMate 300 also has a small built-in speaker.

eMate 300 screen

Officially, the eMate is compatible with PC-compatible computers with 80386DX or later processors (80486 recommended) running at least Windows 3.1 and with classic Mac OS computers with 68030 or later processors and Mac OS 7.1 or later.

The eMate is compatible with several Apple printers including Personal LaserWriter LS, Personal LaserWriter 300, and StyleWriter printers. It is also compatible with PostScript-equipped LaserWriter printers. The eMate works with many popular PC printers sold in the late 1990s using the optional Newton Print Pack.

The eMate has built-in application software including word processing, drawing, spreadsheet, a graphing calculator, address book, and calendar functions. In addition, the eMate 300 can take advantage of hundreds of applications that have been developed for Newton 2.0, as well as applications designed specifically for education.

The eMate 300 was not a big seller and was unceremoniously retired on February 27, 1998 along with Apple's entire Newton line. The eMate was an interesting concept, but lacked the broader range of features available on the Mac OS based PowerBooks. A year after Apple retired the eMate with its slow 25 MHz processor and limited Newton OS, Apple introduced the infinitely more powerful and very affordable iBooks running Mac OS to fill the void in Apple's education strategy.

eMate 300 Links on VAW:

  1996 to 1998 Newton Print Ads

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