May 1990

Apple Computer was due to hold its annual developer’s conference in San Jose, and trumpet what it believed would drive sales and engage third party developers. The hot topics would be Object Oriented programming, CD-ROM authoring, HyperCard and a new Finder. However Apple CEO, and now head of R&D, John Sculley had decided to announce something extra.

Tyler Peppel was managing Apple’s new product development including concepts such as a sports wristwatch, a desktop phone with touchscreen  and a joint venture portable electronic book with Toshiba. He had convinced Sculley to make a move into multimedia, and then managed to secure backing and some resources for Project Warhol.

In the weeks leading up to WWDC, Apple’s VP of Networking and Multimedia Donald (Don) Casey directed the marketing department to create a profile for Project Warhol. What would become one of Apple’s great success stories needed an official, and distinctive name. Duncan Kennedy, an Apple product manager and early company evangelist, recalls:

Tyler Peppel had the attorneys at Apple checking out different names with the Quick prefix, and the one that we liked was QuickTime because this really was about time-managed events but there was a problem with that.

The U.S. company Tektronix which was one of the world’s largest makers of test and measurement instruments like multimeters, analyzers, and signal generators had already registered the name Quicktime. Tyler Peppel recalls:

Tektronix owned the name QuickTime, and we began to negotiate with them to see if they would relinquish it.

Kennedy continues:

In the meantime the lawyers came back to us with an alternative, QuickStream. Tyler just rolled his eyes and said “That sounds like (urine)”, but it was called QuickStream for a few days until Don Casey finalised the agreement to buy the name QuickTime.

A few weeks later WWDC began, and attendees were told about Apple’s plans for the coming year. All went as predicted by the trade press until Don Casey took the stage, and introduced a new product called QuickTime. He told a surprised audience that Apple had created a new multimedia document architecture:

a system widetime coding to allow synchronization of sound, animation and other time-critical processes.

QuickTime would provide developers with a common interface for controlling media devices and ways to produce media-data streams, and Casey hoped the new architecture would be delivered to developers by the end of the year.

Casey announced that QuickTime would allow the Macintosh to be the premier platform for digital media, and in doing so pre-empt Microsoft’s release of multimedia extensions to Windows 3.0.

In his own summary at the conference, John Sculley promised:

…the next generation of breakthrough applications will be on the Mac.

Sculley did not mention that work on QuickTime had not even started.

Eric Hoffert was a founding member of Project Warhol and now QuickTime. He became the project leader and in turn the patent-holder for many software-based image compression algorithms, recalls:

I do remember after WWDC when Don pre-announced QuickTime that many of us were surprised and also asking each other, ‘So what is it exactly that we need to deliver?


The monthly excerpt from John Buck’s book, ‘Timeline’. Available at iBooks and Amazon