Operating System: Magic Cap 3 (Rosemary)

Pros: Good screen with cover, great battery, second-generation guts.

Cons: Not many.


The saga of getting a second-gen production device seemed to never end. Licensees of Magic Cap 1.x (Sony, Motorola, Matsushita) gave up waiting for 3.0 to appear and went home. One licensee who wanted Magic Cap 2.0 was told 3.0 was “just around the corner–hold on!” but of course it wasn’t, so they gave up, too. Finally General Magic had Oki build the device under an OEM agreement, i.e. Oki would build it but General Magic’s logo would be on it.

The device known as Apollo went through a couple concept designs. The first one arrived just in time for the Magic Cap Workbench ‘96 developer’s conference. I first saw it in the hotel hallway outside the main meeting room, with Rick Donald ever-so-gently showing it off. (“Hey, be careful with it!”) That Apollo was one of only two in existence at the time, and if you amortized the total R&D cost over two devices, that meant each was worth… a lot of money.

The DataRover 840 you know today is pretty close to the second concept Oki made. Unfortunately, it’s much more subdued than the prototypes – Apollos came in color schemes ranging from silver and black (the James Bond device) to lavender and pea green (the, uh… ladies device). It was great. If you thought carrying a pink Sputnik around was fun, a lavender Apollo was true joy.

The prototypes had only one problem (well, maybe more than one), namely if you burned a bad ROM into it such that the boot code got fried, you totally fried the device. With all previous hardware you could at least take it apart and jumpstart a new ROM download using special hardware. But Apollo didn’t have any such feature. Blast in bad boot code – not extremely hard to do by accident – and the thing was dead. No recourse except maybe unsoldering the ROMs from the motherboard and putting new ones on. Kids, don’t try that at home.

In the end, the hardware came out pretty good. Not as slick as the PIC2000 as far as fit and finish goes, but once you booted it up and started using Magic Cap 3, you could never use a 1.x device again.