Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld dropped out of their respective PhD programs and joined Apple Computer when it was still a young company. Steve Jobs persuaded them to join the company and they share how his persuasion worked. Both Atkinson and Hertzfeld made key and valuable contributions to Apple’s early products and some of them still continue to live in Apple’s new line of products.
Atkinson left his PhD program in Neuroscience at University of Washington in Seattle and joined Apple in 1978. Hertzfeld left his PhD program in the Computer Science Department at University of California, Berkeley and joined Apple in 1979. “Bill was my mentor,” shares Hertzfeld, who worked with Atkinson on the Macintosh. Both of them were part of the team that created the original Macintosh.
Atkinson’s contribution included Hypercard, MacPaint, MacDraw, pull-down menu and much more. Hertzfeld’s major contribution was in creating software for Apple’s products, especially the Macintosh that was released in 1984.
In 1990 Atkinson, Hertzfeld and Marc Porot founded General Magic with the goal of creating a personal communicator. This magical device was supposed to change the way we communicate. They launched their product, but it failed to take off and Hertzfeld and Atkinson share why General Magic did not succeed. While their product found no traction in the market place, their idea of creating a personal communicator succeeded. Tony Fadell, who worked at General Magic went on to join Apple and lead the team in developing iPod and iPhone, and Andy Rubin went on to create the Android mobile phone.
There is a new documentary called General Magic (2018) that traces the rise and fall of General Magic and the impact it help in Silicon Valley’s ecosystem and how the idea of a personal communicator was reborn in a different avatar.