Operating System: Magic Cap 3.x (Rosemary), small screen version
Pros: Half the size of other units, fantastic keyboard.
Cons: Small screen, no PC Card slots, no backlight, no rechargeable battery.
Zodiac is the most dramatic Magic Cap prototype by far. It was built as a proof of concept, showing off Magic Cap in a clamshell form factor, and also the potential for reduced screen sizes. The case and keyboard are from a Sharp Zaurus, but the guts inside are all custom.
When I first arrived at General Magic in 1995, I had to introduce myself to Andy Hertzfeld and Bill Atkinson, co-founders of Magic and Silicon Valley heros for their work on the Apple Macintosh. They had just started playing with the idea for a small-screen version of Magic Cap, and Bill had a printout of the desk scene which he shrunk and put inside a clear cassette tape case. This was his first “prototype” small-screen device. He was simply elated to show it to me.
Some time later–I believe 1996–Zodiac was built. Bill, Andy, and others had created a version of Magic Cap that scaled the icons down and the text sizes up. It was surprisingly usable. Not perfect or ready to ship, but really quite good. You could navigate easily with fingers and type quickly on the fantastic Zaurus keyboard.
I believe ten Zodiacs were made. I got this one from one of the hardware guys after the project had mostly played itself out. When Bill and Andy left General Magic, the push behind small screen Magic Cap left with them. I continued to make tweaks in my spare time, and keep Magic Cap running nicely on my prized Zodiac.
Steve Markman, Magic’s CEO after Marc Porat left, was mostly dismissive of Magic Cap during his stay. I tried to change his mind by sticking a Ricochet wireless modem on the bottom of my Zodiac, then giving it to him to play with. It was a pretty sweet combo in my opinion. Steve thanked me and put it in his desk drawer. In 2001 I contacted a former manager at General Magic, Marianna Tessel, and asked if she could find the Zodiac–“last I knew, it was in Markman’s desk drawer…“–which she did, and kindly sent it to me.
I stuck fresh AA batteries in the thing today, and sure enough, it started right up, and it’s still a delight to use. Zodiac goes down in my book as the coolest Magic Cap device ever made.