Ben

Looking Back: Our first mobile app

Inspired by the anniversary of the first ever iPhone keynote on January 9th 2007, we thought we should visit the past and take a quick peek at a slice of our history. Our first app. It remains fond to our hearts and as usual with Gourmet Pixel - it was cutting edge, pushing the boundaries of mobile development and stretching mobile computing to their limits.

Airwoof: Mobile app 2003 style!

We present - Airwoof.

Actual size! Squint for bigger.

OK, maybe not quite what you expected? Let's give this some context.

The year was 2003, a full 5 years before the AppStore. Phone manufacturers where ripe with innovation and I was lucky enough to be working at Siemens fixing up computers and making Intranets (yes that is spelt right In-tra-net, remember those?). Through this I got friendly with the brand new mobile phone department. These guys where like gods...everyone wanted to be their friends, to see the latest phones, take them to lunch, try and get the latest hardware out of them.

I was one of the lucky ones. I convinced them I could code an internal phone book that held all of Siemens' 4000+ UK staff phone numbers - which was awesome, because these phones could only hold 50 contacts in their address books! The phonebook was searchable, and even linked to a web backend to keep itself updated. Talk about enterprise app development! It's almost odd to look back on that. I think they let me loose to watch me fail...

Of course my task was completed with huge success and the typical lack of fanfare and praise from management, but I became the owner of several cutting edge phones and the envy of my peers. Some of my favourites:

Siemens M55, Siemens SL55, Siemens C60

The spec's of these bad boys are really fun to look back at now:

Things they did have:
- Colour (Yes, Colour!) screen
- 101 x 84 pixel resolution
- 1mb memory
- CPU - not sure, but probably ARM and certainly less than 100Mhz

Things they didn't have:
- Touchscreen
- WiFi
- Bluetooth
- GPS
- Web browser
- MP3 playback

This enterprise app development wasn't really our first app though. It was written for WAP, a very early form of web browser for phones, so that wasn't really our first native app.

I wanted to push these little phones further and with Java and J2ME progressing, it was time to code a game, a proper app, and so Airwoof was born out of a love for the TV series AirWolf.

Because I always love a challenge, I wanted to take advantage of these new fancy colour screens, polyphonic sound and huge(!) amounts of memory and speed, so I set my ambitions high.

Parallax scrolling
Sprite physics
Polyphonic MIDI music
Animated sprites
Dynamic explosions
4096 Colours
Progressive difficulty

And all that in a 49kb package - that's 0.049Mb :) And don't forget, we had 1mb of memory including the system OS to play with!

Looking back on this, Airwoof was an 'endless runner' pioneer - it got progressively harder, no levels, just fly, shoot, dodge and beat your own highscore. It was super fun, I was immensley proud of it, and it was released for free into the J2ME community where it lives on.

So there you have it, our first app, now 12 years ago!! Coding mobile apps back then was very different, but there are still lessons learnt which are useful. Be resourceful, keep your app light and fast - and if you can't - be clever in your execution and disguise the unmovable problem areas (speed!) as best you can.