General Magic: a company that laid the foundations for smartphones


When you invent, epic failures are inevitable, but few are as fascinating or overwhelming as General Magic. General Magic was founded over thirty years ago as an Apple spin-off.

Having a portable device with texting, note taking, games and emoticons was way ahead of its time. Despite a stubborn drive to create the future of communication and a stellar team of designers and engineers at the helm, the end result was insufficient. The market was simply not prepared. Sales never picked up once the product was released, the company went bankrupt and Marc quit.

Most of the key players including Marc, Tony Fadell (iPod, iPhone), Megan Smith (USCTO), Andy Rubin (Android), Kevin Lynch (Adobe, Dreamweaver, Apple Watch), Joanna Hoffman (Apple), Pierre Omidyar (eBay ) and Andy Hertzfeld (Apple, Google), have achieved greater success, cementing General Magic’s place in the history of technology.

General Magic Team Members



Marc Porat, the flamboyant former CEO, had a vision for the smartphone that was more than a decade ahead of its time. Porat persuaded Scully to start a new business and form a team to design it in 1990. When Fadell, a young man from Detroit with great aspirations, heard about Porat’s vision and the engineering team at Apple that he had brought together, he knew he wanted to be a part of it. By sheer force of will, he camped at General Magic and made his way into the company. He had a frontline post for the story, sitting next to Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android operating system.


General Magic was formed in 1993, at a time when the Internet was not yet widely used, but they already had a plan for future technological goods. Their team’s goal was to develop a portable mobile device capable of transmitting data over the Internet, featuring a USB prototype, pen input, and a calendar at a time when people weren’t appearing on the Internet. Internet WWW or in SMS text messages., Personal data management and other functions, and there is a concept of cloud, and even the operating system developed is considered to cross different hardware platforms. They even expect to be able to make this gadget as small as a watch in the future.

General magic smartphone

General Magic Smartphone (Photo File)

Initially, the company operated in near secrecy. While Sculley was still director of General Magic, Apple entered the consumer electronics market with the Apple Newton, a frowned upon “personal digital assistant”. Newton (originally developed as a tablet with no communication features) began to distract the market from General Magic in early 1993.

The company had 100 employees in February 1993.

The New York Times described General Magic as “Silicon Valley’s most followed startup” on February 8. According to the article, the company was launching Telescript software technology with the aim of providing a “standard for the transmission of messages between all computers that compute, no matter who manufactures them.” In 1996, at the start of the Internet boom, Telescript came out.


In 1994, the “General Magic Alliance” of intersectoral partners included 16 global telecommunications and consumer electronics companies, including Sony, Motorola, Matsushita, Philips, Cable & Wireless, France Telecom, NTT, Northern Telecom, Toshiba, Oki, Sanyo, Mitsubishi and Fujitsu, as well as Cable & Wireless, France Telecom, NTT, Northern Telecom, Toshiba, Oki, Sanyo, Mitsubishi and Fujitsu. Each of the “Founding Partners” invested $ 6 million in the company and appointed a senior executive to the “Council of Founding Partners”.

Initial public offering (IPO) (1995)

In February 1995, the company went public on the NASDAQ.

In its first public offering, General Magic received $ 96 million from 16 different investors for a total of $ 200 million. After its initial public offering, the value of the company’s shares more than doubled.

The clock started ticking once it was made public. At the same time, its fate was tied to that of five analog technology companies, not all of which survived the Internet revolution.

General Magic’s problem was a time problem. People had not yet implemented the changes they wanted to make. Only a few people had cell phones. Few people had access to email. The customer had not yet gotten to the point where persistent computing was required. They were three strokes ahead, which led to their demise from Silicon Valley’s most promising startup to the destruction of the road.


A new team of 60 to 70 people was formed in 1996 with the aim of developing a voice recognition-based personal assistant service that would be as similar as possible to human contact. Portico (codenamed Serengeti during development) was the first service to be released, and the UI was dubbed Mary after Mary McDonald-Lewis, who voiced Portico, Serengeti, and later GM counterpart, OnStar. Portico synced with devices such as Palm Connected Organizer and Microsoft Outlook, and handled voicemail, call forwarding, email, calendar and other functions through the user’s 800 number.


In March 1998, Microsoft announced a substantial licensing agreement and an investment in General Magic. Microsoft was given access to some of the intellectual property as part of the purchase, and General Magic was able to move closer to integrating Portico into Microsoft products.


The company’s shares had fallen in 1999, and by early 2000 much of the management team involved in bringing Portico to market had left to pursue new interests with internet companies. Kathleen Layton led a new team that was put in place. The company’s voice services have been transformed into enterprise software products by the new team. On September 18, 2002, the company announced that it would cease operations.

So what can we learn from General Magic?

Above all, it shows that our most important teacher is failure. That it is through failure that one learns tenacity and perseverance. We discover what we are capable of, as well as what we are not capable of. But above all, it offers us life lessons.

Some of them will be remembered for a lifetime.


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