General Magic

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

An origin story everyone should know about finally brought to light, but the lack of a happy ending feels like it doesn’t do justice to the people behind it.

\n\nAll of the “latest” startup advice I find through articles, books and social media advice that one should always build something people need and love. This often means some sort of small iteration on an existing idea or product with a killer feature that brings mass adoption. The unfortunate truth is that mass adoption is the only way a company or product can survive, regardless of how cool the tech is, or how passionate the engineers are behind it. In addition, profitability is something that must also come sooner or later depending on the business. This film is a testament to that fact.

\n\nAmazon started of as book store with an edge, Google started of as a better search engine, Facebook started of as another social network with a better approach to user acquisition, etc… While Amazon wanted to eventually be your point of sale for everything in your home, and Google wanted to organize the world’s data, and Facebook wanted to connect every person in the world, they started off with practical targets but ambitious goals. General Magic had ambitious goals and ambitious targets, which ultimately led to it’s fall…

\n\nOne of the things that saddened me the most throughout this movie is the lack of Marc Porat’s “second coming”. The film depicted him as a visionary, a good leader, a charismatic speaker, and much more. This failure seemed to have really stung him so deep that he was unable to go back on the big stage again. In addition, after reading “Valley of Genius” by Adam Fisher, I was really looking forward to seeing what Andy Rubin’s role and contribution at General Magic was, but it seems that he did not want to be part of the film.

\n\nA lot of successful engineers speak of how they simply like to “tinker with things” and “follow their passion”. Tony Fadell is the most classic example of how true and false that is. He desperately wanted to join and contribute to the company even though he was a lot less qualified than everyone else. He followed his passion, he tinkered with things, and learnt a lot in the meantime. However, towards the end of the film, he briefly speaks about a business plan he came up with (which was rejected) about how to bring a simpler, but cheaper, product to the market in a shorter period of time. He ultimately brings his experience and mindset back to Apple to release the iPhone, iPod and achieve great success. This shows the fine balance and tradeoffs that need to be made between passion and success. This also questions Peter Thiel’s thesis of “Zero To One”. Arguably, General Magic was trying to make that leap, but while the leap from 0 to 1 wouldn’t been impressive, the leap from 0 to 0.1 would have had the same magnitude.

\n\nAt the time of writing this review, I’ve been at Magic Leap for about three years. If I had a nickel for every moment I wanted to say “this is just like Magic Leap”, I would probably have a few dollars by the end of the film. Most notably, I kept asking myself what the Magic Link was actually useful for at the time. Similarly, a lot of people ask me what the Magic Leap can be used for. There are a few basic use cases, with some very intriguing first party content, but both products are just very expensive proof of concepts that are paving the path forward. The flipping coin in the Magic Link was cool, as are the floating islands in the Magic Leap boot up sequence, but is it really necessary?

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