General Magic and the Magic Cap


(E) After Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics, and before Netscape and Google, one of the most innovative start-ups close to downtown Mountain View in the early 90s was General Magic!

General Magic was a company cofounded by Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfeld and  Marc Porat. Other famous alumni of General Magic include Joanna Hoffman, Tony Fadell, Kevin Lynch, and Andy Rubin. All of them have shaped in many ways the usability of today’s smartphones that we are taking for granted.

The Computer History Museum had this week a special screening of the documentary that was made about the story of General Magic, followed by a panel discussion with Marc Porat, Andy Hertzfeld, Michael Stern, and Megan Smith.

Following are…

The official trailer of the documentary generalmagicthemovie:


A Q&A about the premier of the documentary at Tribeca film festival earlier this year:


The panel discussion at the CHM:


And a demo from Andy Hertzfeld about Magic Cap in 1995:


From Wikipedia, the story of General Magic:

“General Magic was a company cofounded by Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfeld] and Marc Porat that developed a new kind of handheld communications device they called a “personal intelligent communicator”, that others called at that time a PDA (personal digital assistant). The original project started in 1989 within Apple Computer, when Marc Porat convinced Apple’s CEO at the time John Sculley that the next generation of computing would require a partnership of computer, communications and consumer electronics companies to cooperate. Known as the Paradigm project, the project ran for some time within Apple, but management remained generally uninterested and the team struggled for resources. Eventually they approached Sculley with the idea of spinning off the group as a separate company, which occurred in May 1990. Porat, Hertzfeld and Atkinson were soon joined at General Magic by Susan Kare, and most of Apple’s Mac 7 team, including Bruce Leak, Darin Adler and Phil Goldman. During the early 1990s, Joanna Hoffman was vice president of Marketing.

The company initially operated in nearly-complete secrecy. By 1992, some of the world’s largest electronics corporations, including Sony, Motorola, Matsushita, Philips and AT&T Corporation were partners and investors in General Magic, creating significant buzz in the industry about the mysterious company. Sculley, George Fisher (the CEO of Motorola), Norio Ogha (the chairman and president of Sony) and Victor Pelsen (the Chairman of Global Operations at AT&T) became members of the company’s board of directors. General Magic announced its intentions to build an anytime, anywhere communications device and an agent-based network to host it—well before either was ready to ship—at a public event in New York in 1993, a sign of the hubris infecting the company’s management. By 1994, the “General Magic Alliance” of cross-industry partners had expanded to 16 global telecommunications and consumer electronics companies, including Cable & Wireless, France Telecom, NTT, Northern Telecom, Toshiba, Oki, Sanyo, Mitsubishi and Fujitsu. Each of the so-called “Founding Partners” invested up to $6M in the company and named a senior executive to the company’s “Founding Partner’s Council.”

In 1992-1993, while Sculley was still a director of General Magic, Apple decided to enter the consumer electronics market itself with a project that became the Apple Newton. Newton, originally designed as a tablet with no communications capabilities, and which could only send or receive messages using a bolt-on peripheral. It nevertheless was marketed as personal intelligent communicator, taking market interest from General Magic. Newton failed after shipping in 1993, helping to undermine the communicator category before General Magic’s partners began shipping their devices. In late 1994, Sony finally launched the wireline Magic Link and Motorola the wireless Envoy, and AT&T launched its PersonaLink network to host the devices.

The company launched an IPO on NASDAQ in February 1995 and the stock price surged on the first day, closing at over $26 per share after opening at $32. It was the high point of the company’s history, which ended eight years later in bankruptcy.”

Note: The picture above is the logo of General Magic.

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