A man sits in a chair in front of a small documentary camera crew. He’s trim, dressed in all black. A red notebook sits on his lap. “Here’s what I wrote in 1989,” he says. “This is a very personal object. It must be beautiful. It must offer the kind of personal satisfaction that a fine piece of jewelry brings. It will have a perceived value even when it’s not being used. It should offer the comfort of a touchstone, the tactile satisfaction of a seashell, the enchantment of a crystal.”
Then comes the reveal. He picks up the notebook. We see a sketch: a rectangular slab of glass, all display, except for bezel at the top and bottom. From his pocket, he pulls an iPhone and holds it above the drawing. The similarities are startling.
“We really had it,” he says with a thin laugh. “We definitely had it.”
This is a scene from the forthcoming documentary General Magic, named for the company that attempted to manufacture the device from the notebook. The man is Marc Porat, CEO of the company. He’d recruited two Apple employees, Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld, who had created the Macintosh. In its earliest iteration, inside Apple, the project had been called Pocket Crystal.
After the project was spun out and years of frenzied development, Wired profiled the company in their April 1994 issue. There were 13 million internet users in 1994. There was roughly one cell phone per 100 people on Earth, none of them equipped to do much more than make calls. The first SMS text message had been sent just two years before.