Chief Technology Officer
David moved full time to Astraware in late 2000, having previously worked at ICL at their e-business services group.
He has been developing software for over fifteen years across many platforms, and produced the first commercial software for ASTRAsoft (the precursor to Astraware) just over ten years ago. David was one of the first people in the UK to own a Palm Pilot, and it was his early development of software for this platform which helped to launch Astraware as it is now!
David brings his skills in cutting edge development of low level technology, as well as a keen eye for excellent web design. His expertise in web development has enabled Astraware to develop its own eCommerce engine to the point of offering it to other companies.
David holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Software Engineering from the University of Birmingham. He worked for 6 years as an e-business and e-commerce consultant with a range of clients including the BBC, United News and Media, Thomas Cook and the British Government.
At Astraware, David created Astraware's Core Technology Library and Aurora Audio Engine which have been used for almost all Astraware products. In 2005-6, he was the first external developer to work with Apple to bring casual games to the iPod.
Blog Posts by David
iPhone dominates this year's GDC Mobile Summit
It was pretty much business as usual at the mobile track of the Game Developers Conference back in February 2008. The big targets were mass-market phones using Java and BREW, with just a mention or two of the smartphone platforms of Windows Mobile and BlackBerry. There was talk of Apple's then 9 month old iPhone, but the SDK for developing applications hadn't yet been announced so options for games were very limited. Michel Guillemot of Gameloft commented in his opening keynote that "every iPhone user is one less mobile gamer."
A month later Apple announced their iPhone SDK, demonstrating what it could do with demonstrations from EA Mobile and SEGA. In July 2008, the iPhone App Store opened with well over a hundred games of all types. It was an impressive start, but the market for iPhone games has exploded since then with thousands of options to download to the device.
So it was no surprise that GDC Mobile 2009 was quite different to previous ones. The opening keynote was "Why the iPhone just changed everything" by ng:moco:'s Neil Young. He portrayed everything that came before the iPhone as lame, and set out his reasoning that this device was better than anything before because of better graphics, better networking, better tools for making games and a better system for getting games into the hands of customers. He may have over-egged it a bit, but no-one at GDC denied that the iPhone is significant, even those representing other manufacturers.
On the second day, EA Mobile's Travis Boatman talked more generally about the smartphone expansion, including other newcomers to the scene such as Google's Android operating system. He certainly reflected the opinion that for many game developers there are now more platforms to develop on than ever. In the end though, the closing video showed EA's upcoming iPhone games. They're the ones that matter.
Later that day the IGF (Independent Games Festival) Mobile awards were again dominated by iPhone developers and games: out of 7 categories, 6 were awarded to the platform. That's cheating slightly as one category was for "Best iPhone Game"... but the fact that there was a platform-specific award category says something about how important the industry views iPhone.
For us at Astraware, this is all very heartening stuff. iPhone has turned the smartphone market, our market, from niche to mainstream in a year. It's a good time to be in the business!
Expanding onto Symbian and BlackBerry
One of the really good outcomes of our acquisition by Handmark earlier this year is the opportunity to get our games into the hands of smartphone owners who haven't so far had access to them, and to give existing Astraware customers a wider choice of phones to run our games. There are two parts to this: the chance to develop for new device operating systems (platforms), and also the ability to get our games sold direct to mobile/cell phone customers on providers such as Sprint and Telus. I'll stick to talking about the first part though...
The first new platform release of 2008 was Symbian (S60 and UIQ) when Astraware Boardgames was released in March. Work on Symbian had actually been going on since the start of 2007, so it was good to see the first game let loose! Hidden Expedition: Titanic and Astraware Solitaire have just followed and Platypus is nearly ready for release. Converting our games to Symbian is now a pretty smooth process, so you can expect to see our other own-brand titles appearing as well as time goes on. Larry has done the vast majority of the work that went into our own-developed games onto Symbian, and I must prod him to write about his experiences...
The first new development platform of 2008 has been BlackBerry. It's a platform that until very recently we'd not ventured into as old BlackBerry smartphones used to be rather unfriendly when it came to games. Software for BlackBerry is written in Java rather than the C++ that we code in for all our other platforms, so we've had to write a new version of our game framework to work in the new (to us) language. But the opportunity has become huge, and once RIM released the pink Pearl, we knew they were gunning for the consumer and that it made sense for us to start work!
An interesting aspect of the BlackBerry is going to be the fact that they are generally sold with a data plan, which isn't something we've been able to count on with other smartphones. One of the things I hope we'll gain from being part of Handmark is that they have been much more used to using data and networking, so it will push us to innovate there. I'll write another time on our thinking around mobile "gamer card" ideas and other such things.
To make sure that we understand what it is to be BlackBerry users, Howard, Alison and I have recently started using BlackBerry Curve smartphones. It's very early days on that, so we're still learning how things work.
Thanks, Gary Gygax
It's touching to see how many people across the internet have today got out their roleplaying puns to pay their last respects to Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, who died on Tuesday morning at his home in Lake Geneva.
In the late 80's Howard and I, and many of our friends, spent our school lunchtimes and weekends playing as Wizards, Fighters and the like, battling evil monsters. We did so without computers (which rather lacked the cinematic capabilities), just using paper, pens, an assortment of dice and a set of Gygax's handbooks to give us the basic rules. Crucially, they didn't give you the story: one of the participants would play the Dungeon Master, creating an environment and acting as all the other characters and monsters that inhabited it.
All the dice rolling and modifiers that were used for fighting monsters certainly gave you a head for mental arithmetic and probabilities... To fight or to flee? What would be the best weapon to use to get cause the most damage?
Furthermore, it was also a sort of mental arithmetic for the imagination as you tried to become the character you were playing and to do what they would do. We had to work as a team, to make the most of each character's advantages and work together to overcome their weaknesses. It's the sort of play that young children instinctively do but all too quickly grow out of.
It's funny how in the modern workplace workers get sent out on team-building outings and roleplaying sessions to get them to work better together. It turns out that was what we spent much of our teenage years doing. I don't think we realised it at the time, but Gary Gygax's work meant that our play taught us a lot.
The end of the Palm Foleo
When we read Engadget's open letter to Palm last month, we had quite a lively discussion about their findings in the office. Some of it we agreed with and hoped that Palm were already working on and some of it we thought was wide of the mark. But drop the Foleo, so close to launch? It's never going to happen!
So it came as quite a shock yesterday when we heard that Palm had cancelled the Foleo. It took a few minutes to sink in, but in the end we came to a conclusion: it was a brave move to make, and if the market feedback wasn't overwhelmingly positive then Palm being distracted from its core smartphone market trying to convince them about a new type of product was probably going to damage them in the long run.
That said, we are sad to see it go, and hope that it will be back some time. Being a PDA and smartphone company Palm had come up with the best integrated and most power-efficient Linux device I've seen anywhere. I did find the lack of a wi-fi accessible email client strange, but what it did it did very well, with good office applications, a nice photo viewer and a decent web browser combined with easy to use wi-fi.
We have been developing for the Foleo for about 9 months, and we have enjoyed the experience. The SDK was good, and having Linux behind it meant that you had a lot of options open in terms of libraries to use. Beyond that, the support that we got from the Foleo team was second to none. Hopefully Palm's smartphone Linux platform will be as good even if it's not exactly the same SDK. We have certainly gained a lot of experience by finishing two products on a Linux-based system, and we'll be able to use that knowledge for future Palm Linux smartphones as well as ALP phones.
Life on the edge is certainly interesting!
Palm Foleo first impressions
Yesterday Palm and Astraware issued a press release about our upcoming releases of Astraware Sudoku and Astraware Solitaire for the Palm Foleo. Having worked with the Foleo through the porting process, I thought I'd put together some thoughts on the what we've discovered about the mobile companion...
First let's get this out of the way: the Palm Foleo isn't designed specifically for me, or many of the tech bloggers who've been writing about it over the last few weeks. Some writers have started to work this out, which is good to see. The Foleo is for people who nearly exclusively deal in email, and lots of it. And on the road. It's for those people who use a smartphone for push email but also lug around a laptop to fire up Outlook, Word or Excel. Software developers such as I need all the power of Windows, but maybe others don't? That's Jeff Hawkins' bet.
But even though I'd not use one for what it's really designed for, there are some things that get me excited. Instant on, for instance. Some people are getting really bored of hearing about it, but in practice it's a revelation. Sitting in front of the TV and want to look someone up on IMDB? In less than a second the device is on, and in less than 5 the wi-fi is up and running and Opera is open. Proper full width web browsing in next-to-no-time! Perfect! If you've not got wi-fi nearby then it'll use your phone's data connection via Bluetooth, though I've not had chance to try that out.
Another really exciting feature is the battery life. Palm quotes it as 5 hours, and I reckon that's quite conservative. After a couple of hours surfing with wi-fi I had used about a quarter of the battery, though I wasn't being scientific. Palm have put a lot of work into the hardware and into making their version of Linux as lean as possible. This being Palm, efficiency is a priority.
In the Astraware office the appearance of a new category of Palm device has created lots of chatter between the tech people and the business people. Those of us mainly in the tech side are excited by the fact that it runs Linux and such. But those in the business side are the most excited...
We send John out to lots of conferences and meetings in lots of locations. Almost every month he's on a transatlantic flight, staying in hotels, meeting with people. And one of the things that gets him down most is lugging his laptop around with its brick of a charger. Flying from the UK to the West Coast of the US takes about 12 hours, but the battery lasts nowhere near that. So he loves the idea of a mobile companion that would allow him to do email and Office documents in something a third of the volume and a third of the weight. He'll be right at the front of the pre-order queue!
That's what's so interesting about the Foleo. I think it'll have quite a market amongst tech-loving types who'll love, for instance, being able to open up a Terminal window. But amongst the people who use mobile email and Office applications out of need rather than want this could be absolutely perfect.