[DFF]: ‘General Magic’

You’ve never heard of General Magic, the debunked Silicon Valley company at the center of directors Sarah Kerruish and Matt Maude‘s documentary, but you’re using one of their products right now. They created the smartphone in 1990.

Yes, 1990.

The company was founded by Marc Porat, who thought of the smartphone at The Aspen Institute. He would come to Apple, who had recently fired Steve Jobs and released the Macintosh, for assistance. He would get money from John Sculley, and then he would get the Monstars of the tech world. The team would be the Macintosh team: Bill Atkinson, Andy Hetzfeld, and Joanna Hoffman. The newbies of the team, Tony Fadell, who’d later work on the IPod and IPhone, Megan Smith, who’d go on to work in the Obama administration, Kevin Lynch who’d created Dreamweaver, Steve Perlman, creator of QuickTime, and Andy Rubin, the creator of Android. Heck, their roster was so deep one of their developers, Pierre Omidyar, founded Ebay.

They were going to change the world. They were idealistic and brilliant, but they were too far ahead of their time. No one had ever made a smartphone before, or even close to it. Every component of the phone became an invention in itself. That and many other weaknesses doomed the company to “failure.” And in the greatest of ironies, this visionary company ultimately died because it lacked the ability to see another portion of the future. The internet.

Sill, what’s amazing about General Magic isn’t the failure. It’s the success. The people at the center of General Magic created emoticons, the smartphone, incorporated the touchscreen. They worked 80-100 hour weeks, not for profit, but because they wanted to shape the future. General Magic is a story of what 100% commitment to a dream can bring, and ultimately, a tale of computer rock stars who failed to succeed, but succeeded in failing. It’ll make you dream big. It’ll transfix you with wonder. It’ll make you worship the magic of technology. It’s also one of the best documentaries of the year.


An official selection of the Denver Film Festival (DFF): 2018.

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