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“GO” Mobile: How a 1980s Startup Gave NYC Subway Riders Something Else to Stare At…

Date posted: 21st November 2015

Our look back at the last 50 years of IT history has finally brought us to the current day. The past few weeks have seen us go back 5 decades from the 60s to the 2000s to analyze how historic trends have set us up for the present“3rd platform of IT” era which includes Cloud, Mobility, Social and Big Data Analytics. Throughout our analysis one trend rose to the top and that is the effect of “disruptive innovation” on companies ranging from first-to-market startups such as Olivetti all the way to IT giants such as IBM. (Aside from of course a major diversion involving 17th century Dutch tulips last week). 

Adoption of the previously mentioned 3rd platform is well on its way to becoming the standard to transforming IT to the the disruptive business growth engine rather than the road-block stopping progress.  But why are these foundations of the 3rd platform? You have probably already have heard sales pitches from multitudes of companies to go cloud, go mobile so we’ll stay quiet on the benefits. To get a better understanding of the foundations of 3rd platform IT, and how we got here let’s look today at the rise of mobility with “GO” Mobile: How a 1980s Startup Gave NYC Subway Riders Something Else to Stare At”

Go Corporation “A Silicon Valley Adventure” about 20 years too soon

We made a casual mention of Go Corporation during the analysis of the rise of the PC.  However the story of the rise of mobility is where the little known story of Go Corporation becomes highly relevant. Go Corporation was founded by Jerry Kaplan back in 1987 as a pioneer of portable computing, tablet computing and the Stylus that Steve Jobs hated so much. <editorial spoiler alert> (Steve Jobs’ prediction of the downfall of the stylus was overly dramaticized in the movie)</editorial spoiler alert>.

We know now that Go was never particularly successful marketing their innovative technology as a business. However it is of course notable for the pioneering work in mobility, and also secondarily notable for the all-star team of alumni including:

Jerry Kaplan – after Go became the co-founder of OnSale, an early pioneer of the B2C online auction. Yes the same person who pioneered mobile computing also pioneered the online auction before eBay’s launch.

Bill Campbell – the final CEO of Go was previously Apple’s VP of marketing and later a board member and CEO of Intuit.

Stratton Sclavos – after Go became of the early VeriSign team, later sold to Symantec to become a security giant

Randy Komisar – became CEO of Lucas Arts

Mike Homer – became VP of Marketing at Netscape at the height of the internet bubble

Omid Kordestani – later became Chief Business Officer at Google and currently Chairman of Twitter

Go Corp’s alumni group is not quite the “PayPal Mafia” (another eBay connection which we will discuss in more detail next week) however the 7 short years of this company’s existence have set in motion multiple successful follow-up companies along with of course the foundation for today’s universal need for enterprise mobility.

Newton – the symbol of Sculley era Apple Dysfunction but also the sacrifice that led to rebirth

Soon after the development and subsequent failure of Go Corporation a fading Silicon Valley giant – Apple Computer took over the goal of making computing mobile. Like Go Corp, Apple’s Newton didn’t even remotely approach a business success. However like Go, Newton set in place the foundation for technologies that would succeed down the line.

In fact multiple features of today’s iPhone, iPad and Android devices used technology originally developed by the Newton team in the early 1990s.  Siri and Google voice search used today in the iPhone was originally pioneered as an intelligent assistance feature for office worker end-users of Newton. The ARM processor used in Newton is still in devices today to maximize battery life. Even some of the team that built Newton eventually came back to Apple with the former VP of Marketing – Michael Tcharo returning to Apple as head of Product Marketing for iPad in 2009.

The return of founder Steve Jobs would be the death knell for Newton though, the ahead of its time, poorly developed technology and vision along with the critically damaged financial state of Apple Computer would kill the project in 1998. Apple would later become the perceived market leader in mobility a decade later however they would first be surpassed by two opportunistic competitors.

Palm – Mobility for the Mass Market  

Go and Apple’s failures lead us to think the technology world was not ready for mobile in the late 80s and early 90s. However by the middle part of the decade the true pioneer of the mobility revolution would emerge. That company is of course Palm Inc.

Palm would succeed where Go and “Sculley’s Apple” did not. The first Palm handheld device was released in 1996. Palm would market their new personal digital assistant (PDA) as a revolutionary business information manager. The device would provide direct access to applications, contact lists, web browsing, calendar, and email in order to make the user connected anytime/anywhere. This invention would arguably change the business world at the same level as the PC did in the 1980s but you probably already see and know that Palm wasn’t long for this world.

The parallels with the growth of the PC don’t end there though. Comparing the story and evolution of the PC to the story and evolution of mobile computing you see a fascinating pattern.

Olivetti = Go Corp (the failed pioneer of the industry)

Apple = Apple (Always gets it right the 2nd time?)

Palm/BlackBerry = IBM (mass market success on the 3rd strike)

Even though Palm grew up as the market leader in PDA and Smartphone mobile technology a bevy of competitors were bubbling to take mobile from niche “nice-to-have” to devices we cannot live without.  And that is where our previously mentioned BlackBerry comes into the picture.

Blackberry – The Start of Mobile Addiction

Ontario based Research in Motion (RIM) launched the first BlackBerry device in 1999 and for the first time an “enterprise class”mobile device was available. Multiple innovations to further the advance of mobility came from BlackBerry including standard keyboard, secure email and messaging capabilities. However one killer feature would take BlackBerry to market standard and that is push email to BlackBerry’s Enterprise Server from Microsoft Exchange. Businesses at the time (and still today) use Exchange Server as a calendar and mail server standard. By adoption and supporting the business standard already in place BlackBerry was able to steal significant market share quickly starting from 1999 into the 2000s.

However the growth in mobile adoption that grew BlackBerry would soon shrink BlackBerry as well. With the launch and maturation of Apple and Android the clock was ticking for BlackBerry and they have been in a shrink the past few years. BlackBerry’s subscriber base which peaked in 2012 at 77 million has shrunk down to 46 million in 2015.

Various factors have contributed to the decline of BlackBerry including maturing business features of iPhone/Android such as Exchange Support. However the growth of BYOD has changed the paradigm more than anything, workers today want to use once device to manage their personal and business life which has forced IT to keep up.

Arguably in fact BlackBerry would be smaller today if more IT departments migrated away from the “old standards” of physical exchange servers and forced usage of “secure” BlackBerry devices.  Cloud server and consumer mobile device security has caught with the times, now it is time for IT departments to do the same.

Which unfortunately means BlackBerry might be doomed.

Android and Apple – The open vs. Closed War for the 2010s

The consumer adoption of Android and Apple as the market leaders in mobility parallels a similar war we discussed in our growth of the PC article.  And a familiar giant is back, the company formerly known as Apple Computer now Apple has returned to growth with the iPhone while Google has seen a 2nd business come out of the open source Android OS.

The story of Apple vs. Android is almost shockingly similar to Apple vs. IBM/Microsoft in the 1980s.

So despite Apple’s first in market launch, and perceived market lead why is Android the new Microsoft?

For the same reason Microsoft beat Apple

Apple iOS like Apple Mac OS is only available on Apple Devices.  Android is available across multiple platforms allowing collaboration and cooperation across hardware OEMs. By allowing open-source Android to work on HTC, Motorola, Samsung and other major hardware Android has taken market share that the iPhone hasn’t been able to touch.

Simply put even though Apple iPhone business is huge (their mobile business alone is one of the largest companies on earth) Android OS has handily won the mobile wars of the 2010s the same way Microsoft won the PC OS war of yesteryear.


In the 28 years since the founding of Go Corporation we’ve come a long way. A late 1980s vision to take the computer mobile has brought us to a major technology change but also really a major social change too. The full effects of the social interaction changes brought by mobile technology will be the study of a later article so stay tuned to Netfast IT Business Review for that.

However we leave today by closing the gap on the micro social change we highlighted in the post title. That micro social change can best be seen here in Netfast’s home city of New York. Here in New York we have been avoiding eye contact with strangers on the subway system for as long as I can remember, finally through using my “BYOD device” we can work and be productive on the subway ride while ignoring our fellow New Yorkers as well.

So not only do we thank Go, Apple, Palm, BlackBerry, Apple again and Android for allowing work to be done anytime/anyplace. We can also thank them for giving New York subway riders something else to stare at during their daily commute!

Stay tuned to Netfast IT Business Review next week when we discuss a different type of social.

Next Week’s Netfast IT Business Review “How PayPal created the Social Graph”

About Author

Joe Asady is the founder and CEO of Netfast Technology Solutions ( Netfast is a leading Cloud Managed Servicesprovider for New York City area mid-market business enabling customers to accelerate Digital Business Transformation with managed cloud and mobile solutions.