Archive for December, 2018

Everything Magic: The first app store?

December 23, 2018

When I presented my Magic Cap devices at the VCFB 2018 I heard from some people the claim that the Magic Cap devices had the first app store in the history. I never heard that claim before and decided to try to find out more about that.

It so happened that (looking through the material for the Telescript University seminar) I stumbled upon a small leaflet in the 1994 “AT&T PersonaLink Services” brochure that describes (unsurprisingly) the features of the short-lived AT&T service that provided email and other services to Magic Cap devices. One of these services was the “Market Square” service that was basically a platform for electronic shops that could be used by Magic Cap users.

The small leaflet was about one of these shops called “Everything Magic”. You can find the leaflet on page 34 and 35 of this scan of the brochure. The leaflet claims that whether “you’re looking for business software, games or even just a cool General Magic T-shirt, you’ll find it at Everything Magic […]”. The backside of the leaflet goes on: “Fast electronic software delivery. Everything Magic can deliver the software products you need right to your communicator. And because they’re send to you electronically, you get your order quickly.”

This really sounds like an app store. The electronic pay procedure probably came through the Market Square infrastructure. The delivery to the device was (push-wise) “electronically”. Whether this meant an automatic download-and-install method like in a today’s app store or as an attachment of an e-mail is unclear at this point.

According to the leaflet “Everything Magic” is a trademark of “eShop Inc.” According to its Wikipedia page, eShop Inc. was originally founded in 1991 to develop products for Go Corporation’s PenPoint operating system. In later years, it developed software for the Windows for Pen Computing and Magic Cap platforms. From 1993, it developed electronic commerce software, focusing primarily on the “business-to-consumer” marketplace. eShop was acquired by Microsoft in 1996 for less than $50 million and eShop’s technologies were integrated into Microsoft Merchant Server. Pierre Omidyar, one of the founders of eShop, earned over $1 million from the deal and later founded eBay.

So, was “Everything Magic” the first app store? According to the “App store” Wikipedia page, the first app store was the “Electronic AppWrapper” system presented in May 1993. It seems to me that the bulk of the software data of this system was distributed on a CD-ROM (maybe I am wrong there). The next contender Wikipedia mentions is a 1996 SUSE Linux component. It all depends (like for so many “firsts”) on what you see as the defining elements of an app store. Getting some software electronically and installing it on your computer is a very old feature (e.g. the original FTP protocol is from 1971). In my opinion an “app store” is a system where one can browse electronically in programs meant to be executable on some version of the user’s device, select or buy a program electronically, and the chosen program is then transferred and installed automatically in an integrated way (opposed to the need of a user to install a transferred program manually using the OS’ UI procedures). I also have the feeling that when we say “app store” we mean “for a mobile device and all that can happen virtually anywhere through the wireless data connection of the mobile device”. This latter aspect is not really a technical difference (the infrastructure on the server and the end user device side would be the same in either case).

So, if we mean “app store for mobile devices”, “Everything Magic” might have been very well the first one if

  • the program installation would have been taking place automatically (which we do not know currently)
  • if the shop was actually deployed (which we also do not know at this point. Also, one is often suspicious whether things that were announced in the Magic Cap world really made it to the product stage)

If the mobile aspect is not important to your definition of an app store,  “Everything Magic” is at least a very early example.