Archive for May, 2010

From the Top

Friday, May 28th, 2010

When I first touched technology back in the early 80s, I cared more about avoiding the Wacky Amoebatrons and climbing the Banyan Tree than what Apple or Microsoft were up to. On reflection it was surprising I even had access to my rubber-keyed friend; Norfolk was certainly not renowned for its presence on the country’s technological stage. Tractors? Yes. Personal computers? Not so much.

However a teenage life spent working in a newsagents surrounded by technology magazines soon opened the eyes to the possibilities of spending entire weekends typing in games from Sinclair Programs that then had to be re-typed as they failed to load from the tape drive. In hindsight at the rate I went through those D60’s I may have been better off spending my time buying shares in TDK. Ah well, vive la patience/typing/BASIC skills.

Failed save/loads aside, the hardest parts en-route to turning dabblings into professional endeavours were the A-level and Degree Computing courses. My technology chops were driven by the colour and passion of the burgeoning games industry at the time, only to then be rudely slapped in the face by courses that had the divine capability of sucking the very light out of the day. Looking back, I’m astonished I made it through University, not because I couldn’t manage the course, but because it was just so grey. Really, really grey.

Fortunately my first position in a small, youthful games company near Oxford recharged the batteries somewhat, and by the time I’d left there to move on to Gremlin up in Sheffield, things were looking far brighter. Gremlin kinda set the scene of life from that point on; the teams were bright, focused, and enjoying themselves. I was lucky enough to be working on some great projects with some great people, and Hogs of War was a real peach, sat as it was amongst the many sports games being developed at the time.

So all told I consider myself extremely fortunate; I was lucky enough to get my break in a very creative industry very early on, and had the opportunity to be involved with some great products on many of the big platforms around today. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of lines of C-variant code to throw 3D missiles around, to make Medic Pigs behave differently to Commando Pigs, and to play entire symphonies in stereo surround sound. It’s been a fascinating and eminently enjoyable journey so far, and a big shout out to everyone that I got close to along the way.

So now with the advent of Apple’s new technology winging its way around the world, it seems I have a chance to take everything I’ve learnt to date and start something completely new with the iPhone and iPad, alongside yet another bunch of great people. Can it really get any better than this? I think we’re all looking forward to finding out…

Google and Apple; same coin, different sides

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Holy moly Google are a busy bunch. They throw Google Search at us, Google Maps, Google Earth, we have the new Google Chrome browser, the soon-to-be Google Chrome OS, we have Android, GMail, Buzz, Docs, TV, and I lose focus and head into a fuzzy trance-like state; clearly a case of Google-overload.

Apple are quite the contrast: they carefully mould one single item, and then proceed to wring every last piece of juice out of it. They hit the world with the first Mac back in 1984, built on it, and continued to focus focus focus to the present day. The iPod took centre stage seven years later and consequently got polished, honed, trimmed. And the iPhone has been no different, every year a new layer of lacquer, a new fresh smell. That’s not to say that the improvements have been mere aesthetics, not by a long shot. But on releasing each single product, their end-game has always been to not stop until perfection has been reached.

Nothing encapsulates the difference between the two companies more than their respective smartphone ecosystems, Google’s Android, and Apple’s iPhoneOS.

It seems clear that Google are, as with the rest of their work, throwing out their Android technology as fast and as far as it can possibly go, in as small an amount of time as possible. Updating it, re-updating it, improving it, followers be (somewhat) damned. And as a follower of technology, I must say there is something utterly alluring about this mentality. The speed of improvement is nothing short of exhilarating, with the perpetual promise of something new on waking up in the morning ever present. As a customer and a developer, after the initial rush of sparkle and glitz, well, not so much.

See, software development can be tough. Back in the days when every PC was different, with no fluffy Windows unification to rely on, developers had to cater for an infinite number of home and work setups. Sometimes your products worked, sometimes they didn’t and it was always a bit of a lottery as to which way things would fly. Trust me when I say, the hours spent trawling through the specs list on the side of a box were nothing compared to those spent taking software back for a refund because it still refused to install correctly. And Google are walking exactly the same path even as we speak. Sure, some might say fragmentation didn’t hurt the PC industry, but back then, the whole personal computing industry was in its infancy and people took whatever they could get. Now, they have alternatives.

And Apple’s iPhone really is one hell of an alternative. In stark contrast to Google they release one tightly controlled version of the handset every year, at the same time, in the same place. Everyone who buys one buys the exact same experience; the same operating system, the same upgrades, the same screen, built-in software, everything. Because of this there are certain unwritten guarantees for both the consumer and the developer: we won’t change anything overnight, there will be no surprises, your software will work and you will spend more time enjoying yourself. Simple and effective. Does this overt control that Apple provides make any of it less appealing? Are their predictable releases or updates any less exciting? Ask the swathes of people attending Apple’s sold-out WWDC on June 7th.

Yes, there may be some developers leaving Apple’s ecosystem citing too much control, but I think the sentiment is somewhat overblown. Really, for those with development history stretching back thirty years or so, we have never had it so good. To have a system so personable to end-users, and so predictable for developers, to know that virtually every system out there will run your software and give a near identical experience to everyone else, that’s simply too good to pass up, even on principled grounds.

On balance I don’t think there will be any losers in this competition. Customers win because they get choice, and really choosing either ecosystem will provide plenty of returns for hard-earned cash. The speed of Google’s progression will invariably slow as their system matures making life calmer and more predictable for developers and consumers alike, and by the time that happens it’ll likely be on an infinite number of handsets from an infinite number of providers around the globe. Apple will in all likelihood have to relinquish at least some of its control, thereby giving back some of what it had taken away, and appeasing many of the doom-sayers around the wires at the same time as selling huge numbers of their singularly focused handsets. Any distinct software or hardware improvements on either side will likely be duplicated by the other in short shrift.

So if you ever hear anyone arguing vehemently for one or the other, feel comfortable in the knowledge that it doesn’t matter which side faces upwards, they are both technological giants in their respective fields, and will, in all likelihood, forever be part of the same coin.

Welcome to the DigitalOrigins Blog

Friday, May 21st, 2010

A smart guy once told me “a website is like a dark shop window; you can just about see what’s on display, but haven’t a clue what’s actually going on inside the shop”. I asked him if he’d walk through the door to go in to take a look, but he said no and we changed the subject.

So this is our opportunity to brighten the display and shine a light on what’s going on inside the shop, pulling people in so that everyone can knock heads together. We get to talk a little bit about what we do and how we do it, as well as throwing spotlights externally on industry, personalities, and hopefully share just a bit of the passion we feel for the industry that we’re in. Oh, and of course no blog would be complete without a few other things that influence and entertain us as we wend our way around the sun.

So please do keep coming back, and always feel free to join in with the dialogue as we continue to grow in the creative digital industry. We look forward to connecting with you and enjoying some of the ride together.

- Andrew Fox