Giving WiFi To An Apple Newton

The Apple Newton gets a bad rap, partly because of the bad handwriting recognition of the first version of the firmware, and mostly because Steve Jobs hated it. Those who know of the Newton love the Newton; it has an exceptionally well-designed interface, the handwriting recognition is great with updated firmware.

[Jake] has the king of the Newtons – a MessagePad 2100. There’s a hidden port in this machine for a modem card, but Apple never made one. While other Newton aficionados trudge along with old PCMCIA WiFi cards that only support 802.11a without WPA2, [Jake] thought it would be possible to build a modern WiFi card for the Newton. He succeeded, opening the door to modern networking apps on the finest tablet Apple will ever make.

Oddly, this isn’t [Jake]’s first attempt at expanding the capabilities of his Newton. There’s an internal serial port inside the MessagePad 2×00, and a few years ago [Jake] tried to build an internal Bluetooth card. The RF design didn’t work, but with a few more years of experience, [Jake] figured he had the skills for the job.

The critical piece of hardware for this build isn’t an ESP8266 or other common WiFi module. Instead, a WiReach module from ConnectOne was used for the built-in PPP server. This allows legacy hardware to use standard AT modem commands to access a WiFi network. It’s a very interesting module; there is a lot of hardware out there that speaks PPP natively, and a module like this could be a drop-in replacement for a modem.

That said, thanks to unintelligible and ‘Apple Classified’ documentation, getting this card working wasn’t easy. The APIs to access the internal serial slot were never documented, and it took a bit of time with a disassembler to figure out how to address the port correctly.

[Jake] has pushed all the files for his project up to Github. This includes the design files for the PCB, the Newton software that enables WiFi, and a nifty 3D printed port cover that shows off the new wireless capabilities of Apple’s greatest tablet.

22 thoughts on “Giving WiFi To An Apple Newton

    1. Today I learned I’ve been doing Os wrong all my life. I mean, the cursive I learned meets the top of the O and then goes counterclockwise until it meets the original point (then continuing with the rest of the word), but whenever I write in print form or block letters (which is most of the time because I’m a programmer not a calligraphist :P) it’s clockwise.

      Wow.

  1. Awesome work – I might have to dig my Newton out for a play one afternoon.

    It’s amazing the work that people put into something that had very little application outside of your own entertainment. Much better than sitting on the lounge watching the idiot box all night.

  2. So happy to have my Newts: 2 x OMP, 1 x 110 and 1 x 2100 (all of which still work)! My 2100 is still the only hand held that could read out my calendar appointments. None of my new devices can do that.

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