CAPSULE: General Magic was a company that was hugely innovative. General Magic designed many of the design and communication protocols. Time after time when the developers of cutting edge electronics would get to a point in design, General Magic had been there first. The strategy for defining interfaces would have already been defined by General Magic. General Magic was as world-beating as any of the tech giant corporations. But financially the company was a bust. They had been precisely at the right place at the wrong time. They had the answers too well before their technology was needed. GENERAL MAGIC is a look at the inside of the tech company by many of the people who were there. It is the story of the company as seen by insiders of the General Magic. Directors: Sarah Kerruish, Matt Maude; Writers: Sarah Kerruish, Jonathan Key, Matt Maude. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
The intended theme of this documentary is dropped directly in the viewer's lap so it cannot be missed. "Failure is not the end. It is only the beginning." However, if General Magic the company is going to go beyond this beginning documented here, it will not be in its own name but rather as a widely diffuse legacy. And that is a pity.
We tend to think of corporations as being either a success if employees make enough to live on or a failure if the staff does not. The corporation General Magic is almost unknown today yet there are billions and billions of pieces of high-tech equipment that were originally envisioned and in their original precursors were built by General Magic,
General Magic was founded (to be rich and) to change the lives of people all over the world. The founders were superstars of Apple who broke off and founded their own company. General Magic invented or refined iPhone/Android, iPad, iPod, the Internet, LinkedIn, Google circles and eBay. Yet the company remained little known to the general public.
General Magic's star developers would meet and spend much thought rediscovering what their equipment had to do. Rather than update what already existed they would re-design from scratch. They did not adapt the task to work on the equipment available. They would reinvent the equipment to fit the task. This was especially true during the early heady days of design. The company attracted the best computer designers in the world. It was typical to have a piece of equipment suggested in an afternoon meeting and it would be designed that evening and by the next day's meeting the equipment was designed, built, and delivered the next day. That was an environment that attracted the "rock stars" of computer design.
The film tells the story of one of General Magic's largest blunders. General Magic had been a division of Apple, when it split off and made itself its own corporation. John Scully had been a director of General Magic but went with the new company. But he also maintained ties with Apple, passing along their intellectual property, essentially spying for them. This enabled Apple to develop the Newton using ideas from General Magic.
This film is a paean to ideals of design making it ironic that the opening frames of film show text in a very hard to read fine print. Overall I rate GENERAL MAGIC a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Release date: GENERAL MAGIC will open in New York City on July 12th at IFC Center.
Film Credits: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6849786/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/general_magic
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2019 Mark R. Leeper