APPLE Computer's ultra-versatile electronic organiser - the Newton MessagePad - will be officially launched worldwide today (Hong Kong time), 15 months after a prototype of the product was first unveiled. But customers in Asia will have wait before they get their first glimpse of the device. While Newton goes on sale in the United States today, its roll-out in Asia will be a staged-managed over several months. Apple Hong Kong staff were tight-lipped yesterday about launch details, despite Newton having been widely previewed elsewhere. Apple would not say how much the product would sell for in the US, and would only say that Newton would be available in the region by the end of the year. In the US, it is expected to sell for about US$700. The Newton organiser - or Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), as Apple prefers to call it - weighs less than a half a kilogram, will fit into a jacket pocket and operates like an intelligent diary. External add-ons turn the Newton into a portable communicator, for accessing electronic mail (e-mail) or sending faxes. Much about the long-anticipated Newton has already been chronicled. The device uses a pen-pointing function to ''drive'' screen icons. Early reports said the Newton's handwriting recognition system is better than anything else available on the market. However, it remains less than perfect. A local Apple spokesman said yesterday that today's launch was ''very much a first product'' demonstrating the potential of Newton technology. While the product being launched provides ''backbone'' features, there are many elements of a complete product still under development within Apple and its technology partners. It is understood later models will have colour screens and back lighting, and come with significantly enhanced wireless communications capabilities. Future Newton are also expected to come with infrared connections, that let users ''zap'' message files from one Newton to another, or to communicate ''wireless-like'' with peripheral devices such as printers. Technology partners such as Motorola and Siemens, which have licensed the Newton ''intelligence'', are expected to come out with devices that combine the Newton functionality with the cellular telephone handset. Apple is understood to already be in discussion with telephone companies in the US over how licensing arrangements for Newton communications devices would work. The device holds tremendous potential as a sophisticated and inexpensive messaging terminal. Much of the communications potential is not expected to reach the market, even in the US, before the middle of next year. Apple would not comment on whether similar discussions had taken place in Asia with telecommunications carriers. Other partners that have licensed Newton technology, or who are developing technology that will be included in future Newton releases, include the Japanese electronics giants Sharp and Matsushita, LSI Logic and Cirrus Logic. The Newton has been under development at Apple for six years in its Personal Interactive Electronics (PIE) division, and is billed by analysts as critical to the company's future. Apple has seen margins on its computer products drastically reduced in the last two years and, earlier this month, the company reported its biggest ever loss - $188 million - for its fiscal third quarter. The Newton MessagePad had its first official public showing at the biannual MacWorld computer conference in Boston yesterday. In Hong Kong, the product is being shown to the media and key customers today, where Apple's Hong Kong-based Far East office is expected to announce specific country-by-country pricing for the region, as well as local launch dates.