Atkinson and Hertzfeld dropped out of their respective graduate studies and joined Apple Computers in the mid-1970s. Atkinson helped create the hypercard, dropdown menu and other innovative features for Apple’s User Interface. Hertzeld was the “software wizard,” who worked and made significant contributions to Macintosh’s Operating System.
This is the final episode of our 5-part series with Silicon Valley pioneers Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld, who were members of the original Macintosh team at Apple Computers. Remember Ridley Scott’s 1984 Macintosh commercial? Yes, that is the Macintosh we are talking about.
Atkinson and Hertzfeld left Apple in the 1980s and became entrepreneurs. In 1990 Atkinson and Hertzfeld along with Marc Porat co-founded General Magic that was spun off from Apple. General Magic’s goal was to create a personal communicator device for the post-computer world. This was the most famous startup that you have never heard of is how General Magic is described by some observers.
In this final episode from our 5-Part conversation, Atkinson and Hertzfeld share why they founded General Magic and why their company failed and what they learnt from their experience as entrepreneurs. They failed to market their product successfully, but their innovative idea continues to survive and live in other products.
Atkinson shares, “When the iPad first came out, Steve Jobs sent me one with a note and it said, ‘Enjoy. This has some of your DNA in it. – Steve. So he (Steve Jobs) acknowledged that some of the ideas in the iPhone and the iPad came from what we attempted to do at General Magic.”
Hertzfeld and Atkinson have mixed feelings about their experience at General Magic and share how they missed their cues from the fast changing market.
A 2018 a documentary called “General Magic” helped Atkinson come to terms with his sense of shame he experienced with General Magic. Atkinson shares, “And one of the things that the movie did for me is remind me, hey, we did have a lot of fun and there are fruits of what we did that even though the products didn’t sell, the ideas did go far. And people who cut their teeth in General Magic ended up doing great things afterwards.”
Some of the members of General Magic’s team were Megan Smith (3rd US CTO under President Obama), Tony Fadell (cofounder of Nest Lab) and Pierre Omidyar (founder of eBay).
In case you missed, you can watch the previous episodes from our 5-Part series where Hertzfeld and Atkinson share how they developed an interest in math and science, why they dropped out of their graduate studies to join Apple and their experience working at Apple and with Steve Jobs.
This conversation is part of Season 4 of our Silicon Valley Pioneers series that spotlights the role of “hidden figures” in Silicon Valley. This 5-part series featuring Hertzfeld and Atkinson is sponsored by Zoho.
The Kamla Show is filmed and produced in Silicon Valley and airs on TV in the US and is available on YouTube.
This interview aired and continues to air on PBS, Public Media and cable stations in the U.S
Here is a partial list of TV stations in the US that broadcast our weekly TV show.
Do subscribe to our YouTube channel where we feature new conversations every week.