Magic Cap

General Magic was the company that created the Magic Cap operating system and hand-held devices including the Sony Magic Link and Motorola Envoy. Many concepts from Magic Cap went on to new lives in later products like the Danger Hiptop, Apple iPhone, and Google Android.

Before General Magic became a company in 1990, it was an internal project at Apple called “Paradigm.” One day while I was working at General Magic, the marketing department was throwing away old stuff, so as the self-appointed, unofficial General Magic historian, I dug through their trash and discovered this: a concept book from the Paradigm days.

Operating System: Magic Cap 1.0, later 1.5. Pros: ARDIS radio modem, sturdy clamshell design, two PC Card slots. Cons: Price of ARDIS radio service, non-backlit screen, slow-mo user experience. History Motorola products from the 90’s were built to last, and the Envoy was no exception. It was the StarTAC of Magic Cap devices–flip design and indestructible. The first thing you’d notice is the antenna, which is exactly what the marketing folks wanted.

JET very kindly unearthed a treasure chest containing the One True ROM Image for DataRover 840s, a PC Card that will flash a 840’s ROM to Magic Cap 3.1.2j. This card can be used to re-flash a ‘rover with no additional hardware. (See also this article for reflashing a ‘rover using the developer tools and serial cable.) You can download the ROM image from the archives page and load it to a 8MB linear flash card yourself, or if you need a pre-flashed card mailed to you, contact me.

Note: if you bought a DataRover on eBay that has pre-release Rosemary firmware (usually dated 9/1/1997), that won’t work with the packages in the archive. It’s best to update to 3.1.2j.

These are documents from the Magic Cap SDK which may be of interest to the community, particularly those into software development and usability. Warning to developers digging for ideas: some topics discussed in these docs are covered by patents. Using Magic Cap: User-level documentation for Magic Cap 3.1, i.e. what runs on the DataRover 840. Recommended to anyone who hasn’t seen/used Magic Cap in person. Design and Magic Cap: An older document covering the design and usability of Magic Cap, targeted at application designers.
Question: Whatever became of Magic Cap? Will it ever be released into the public domain? Is OpenMagic happening behind closed doors somewhere? Answer: Unfortunately, no. Here’s the story according to Steve Schramm, former General Manager of the Magic Cap division and CEO/President of DataRover/Icras: Andy [Hertzfeld] strived to open Magic Cap at the time of the GMGC bankruptcy. If I remember Andy’s explanation correctly, Nathan Myrvold, formerly of Microsoft, used the bankruptcy process to capture the IP after Andy Hertzfeld working with Andy Rubin had won two previous decisions to get the Magic Cap IP.
Operating System: Magic Cap pre-1.0. Pros: Slim form factor, cool looks (perhaps the coolest). Cons: Awful screen, custom battery, difficult left-handed operation. History Bamboo was a mystery to me: definitely before my time at General Magic, I remembered only seeing references to it in the Magic Cap 1.x source code. But when I asked around among other ex-Magicians, nobody else knew about it, either. When I told Mark ‘The Red’ Harlan I had discovered one, he said: “AWESOME.

CujoChat icon

CujoChat is an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) client for Magic Cap communicators. IRC is a multi-user, real-time conferencing/chat system running on the Internet. Users talk on topic-oriented channels, such as #magic-cap, or directly with other specific users. IRC has been around since 1988, and since then it has gained quite a bit of popularity. There are usually thousands of active channels, so you can find people talking about almost anything.