Operating System: Magic Cap 3.x (Rosemary)

Pros: Clamshell design, hardware keyboard, screen folds completely back for tablet-like use.

Cons: Lame keyboard, no PC Card slot, somewhat lame NiMH battery.


Gemini was born to be the commercial version of the Zodiac clamshell prototype. Unfortunately, it suffered in the shadow of Zodiac, taking its flaws but not its advantages. The thought in management was, “we’re going to make Zodiac a real product. We’ll make the device exactly like Zodiac, just in our own plastics.” Of course, Zodiac only had a 14 VGA screen, and the small screen version of Magic Cap wasn’t ready for prime time. It was good, but not shippable.

So Zodiac got a full-sized, backlit screen. That made it, by default, almost as large as any other Magic Cap device. Management tried to keep the feature creep down, though, as every feature meant a longer schedule. The reason Gemini was born was not for its features, but because we thought we could do it fast. After all, we had Zodiac to start from, right? So the only changes allowed were the full-size screen, backlight, and a rechargable NiMH battery.

Gemini’s doom was obvious. No PC Card slots meant no expansion–no wireless LANs or wide-area wireless support except Ricochet. And no memory cards, so if it crashed in the field, the user was hosed. The battery cover wasn’t easily removable, so the user pretty much had to stick to one NiMH battery–a battery which didn’t have nearly as much power as Sony’s Lithium Ion batteries. And the keyboard was lame, making Gemini’s best feature almost a liability.

To compound the already obvious problems, an outside contractor was used to design the motherboard. Brian Sander, chief hardware genius at General Magic, had somewhat less-than-flattering things to say about the result. It went through several revisions just to make things work–so much for just “reusing” Zodiac–and more bugs kept popping up. The board we thought final wouldn’t even charge batteries correctly. So the misfit was a lemon, too.

It’s really quite a pity, because I very much wanted to make Gemini work. Zodiac was my favorite Magic Cap device by far, and this was the chance to make it “real.” But nobody would make the decision to either make a Zodiac (great keyboard, pocketable) or a real full-sized device (great battery, PC Card slots). Instead it languished inbetween, having too much size without the matching features, and was plagued with hardware bugs. There was only so much I could do in software to address Gemini’s shortcomings.