The Beauty of General Magic

I was never an employee at General Magic, but I was an end user of their products.

The Sony MagicLink running General Magic’s MagicCap OS.

The MagicLink I received as a gift when I was a kid was a more transformative experience than the Macintosh II which I bought at a yard sale with my hard-earned allowance. Somehow, holding it in my hands, I felt the future. I would spend hours at a time simply tapping away at the screen.

I still have the MagicLink in my possessions and consider the MagicCap OS one of the best computer interfaces to date. The only problem I had was choosing between the dog and the cat as my companion.

Increasingly, a flat unmetaphoric design pervades computer interfaces. We’re provided hidden discursive menus and an array of features that provide little benefit or can even be explored in the time one possesses the device. This stands in stark contrast to the MagicCap OS and its desk, hallway, rooms and Internet down the road.

In one sense, it may seem that the debate about skeuomorphic design has little meaning.

The last 50 years of computing have been about improving the appearance of computers. The next 50 years will be about improving the disappearance of computers.

In that sense, the metaphoric nature of the design language of computing interfaces may not matter much, however their analogous properties will be even more vital to ensure that computing serves humanity.

To abandon these analogous properties in a rich digital ecosystem of touch, speech, brainwave and biometric sensors would mean that we would conform our humanity to suit the needs of computing.

And it would be much more painful than carpal tunnel syndrome.

The legacy of General Magic may not be the iPhone, but perhaps something a bit further down the road. I’m hoping that this deeper legacy of a truly human-centric and fun design language for computing will continue to find new expression.