The film General Magic documents the rise and fall of a ‘90s-era Silicon Valley startup of the same name that many credit as having invented an iPhone-like device long before Apple started developing its game-changing smartphone. The company was made up of talented ex-Apple engineers (many of whom had worked on the original Macintosh computer) and other well-known names in the consumer electronics industry today. It also prominently features Sony, one of only a couple of companies ever to release a device running General Magic’s Magic Cap operating system: the Sony Magic Link PIC-1000 PDA.
Some believe Magic Cap and the devices that ran it were simply ahead of their time, forced to limp along on limited hardware and electronics that made the OS feel clunky and outdated. But in reality the development of Magic Cap suffered from countless delays, and issues like feature creep, where a never-ending list of ‘neat’ features and ideas resulted in missed deadlines and shipping delays.
Finally released in 1994, the Sony Magic Link PIC-1000 was a disappointment at best, and while it did offer innovative functionality like a built-in modem for sending and receiving email on the go, it wasn’t enough for the device to change the world. The upgraded Sony Magic Link PIC-2000 was released two years later, but it was saddled with a $900 price tag, and faced an even bigger hurdle: the arrival of the $300 Palm Computing Pilot 1000 PDA.
The Pilot 1000 worked within the limits of the technology at the time, providing a snappy user interface, reliable handwriting detection using ‘Graffiti,’ which was easy to learn, and a clever use of a sync cradle to periodically receive and send emails through a desktop computer. It wasn’t as powerful as PDAs running Magic Cap, but it was powerful enough for most users and easily pocketable. As a result, it truly ushered in the era of the personal digital assistant. Sorry, Sony.