Hello, ComputerCraft!

Two years ago, I watched this video:

A couple minutes afterwards I bought Minecraft and have played ever since. On our multiplayer servers we've had some awesome builds, like ships and spaceships and cities and other cool stuff.

Today almost exclusively I play Tekkit, a multiplayer mod pack that adds a ton of 'industrial' components to Minecraft, like machines, power, oil, pipes, engines, computers, and much much more. With it we can build vast factories powered by nuclear reactors, or solar-powered processing plants. There are hundreds of new items in Tekkit that really make the game a more enjoyable experience, especially if you've done everything you can possibly do in vanilla Minecraft.

Minecraft has been explosively popular with people of all ages, including young kids, which makes me start to think about one specific mod included in Tekkit, ComputerCraft.

ComputerCraft is a mod that adds a 'computer' block to the game (among other things, like a computerized 'Turtle'), which you can interact with, run programs on, etc. This computer runs a variant of Lua, and all the 'applications' on the computer are Lua scripts - i.e. you can easily open them up and see their source code, edit them and learn from them. Even better, though, is this computer can be wired up to things in the Minecraft game world, allowing you to control real things inside the game.

You could, for example, easily wire up your house lighting (or your Tesla coil-based security system!) to the computer and with a little script you could turn it on or off, or with a little more practise and skill you could create complex contraptions using the in-game RedStone circuits and pistons or other machines.

If ever you wanted an excuse to teach your child how to program in an environment that they feel comfortable in, why not Minecraft? ComputerCraft is a fascinating thing to play and build with, and you'd hardly even notice you're learning how to program. There's so much potential here, but I won't go into detail right now; instead, check out this little video for the kind of things ComputerCraft can do:

2007's pre-M3 version of Android; the Google Sooner

When Google first showed off Android, they showed it running on a device very similar to Blackberries or Nokia E-class devices of the time. This device was the Google Sooner - an OMAP850 device built by HTC, with no touchscreen or WiFi. This was the Android reference device, the device they originally built the OS on.

Recently, I got access to a Google Sooner running a very early version of Android. With all the recent information coming out of the Oracle vs Google trial, I thought it would be interesting to take you on a brief tour of the OS. The build of Android this is running was built on May 15th 2007 - four months after the iPhone was announced; the first M3 version of Android was announced in November 2007, and Android 1.0 didn't come 'till a year later.


The Google Sooner, aka the HTC EXCA 300, runs on an OMAP850 with 64MB RAM, and comes in two colors: black, and white. It has a 320x240 LCD screen (non touch) and a 1.3 megapixel camera sensor on the back, which supports video recording. Its curvy profile is surprisingly light and has a certain quality to it. It has a full QWERTY keyboard, a four-way d-pad, four system buttons (menu, back, home, and favourites) and call/end call buttons. Inside is a 2G radio, which is capable of EDGE speeds, but no WiFi or 3G. It has a mini-SD slot (not micro-SD), and a mini-USB port.


This device runs build htc-2065., and was built on May 15th of 2007. This means it's much earlier than any previous look we've had at Android to date - a good six months before the milestone 3 (M3) version of Android, the initial release, was announced.

Home Screen

This is the primary interface to Android. You get a handful of Gadgets (a Clock, for example, and applications can provide their own), and a Google Search bar (that pops up when you hit the down arrow). There is no conventional homescreen with widgets - this is literally all you get when you turn on the device. It was an OS designed to search Google from the very start.


Hit the Home button and a drawer of apps shows up. This appears to be the shortcuts bar - any time you're inside an app you can hit the menu key and add the app to this. You can also add specific activities in an app to the favorites bar - for example Bluetooth settings, similar to those allowed on Windows Phone 7. You can also access your notifications and Cell/Battery settings from the shortcuts bar.

Hit the down arrow and the shortcuts bar expands to show all applications installed on the system. This acts just as you'd expect from a 2006-era non-touch device. There are no sorting or view options; what you see is what you get. The applications drawer appears as an overlay, so you can access it from any app without navigating back to a home screen.

Funnily enough, there's a second 'All Applications' screen, this time housed inside an app. It has a slightly different look and feel, but works exactly the same.

Future home screen

If you remember the M3 version of Android, as shown in the original announcement video, it had a very different home screen. This homescreen actually exists on this Sooner's build of the OS, but as an app. I imagine it wasn't finished yet, and as they prototyped this new homescreen they just left it as an app you can launch (similar to how you can have multiple launchers on Android today). Here you have the shortcut dock across the bottom of the home screen. Eventually, by the time Android was released, this became the traditional homescreen we know today.


The browser on the Sooner is based on WebKit [ Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh ; U; Intel Mac OS X; en) AppleWebKit/522+ (KHTML, like Gecko) Safari/419.3 ] and seems to pretend to be a Mac (perhaps to help mask itself, since this is many months before Android was announced). Browsing is a painful and slow experience, even though rendering isn't too bad.


A rudimentary Gmail app is included, with basic access to your email. This is a far cry from Gmail on Android today.

Google Talk

Google Talk is present and seems to work great (if you like green…).

Other Apps

Here are just a few of the included apps. Some work, some don't, and some work partially. All are very rudimentary at this stage. I'm not sure if this was before or after The Astonishing Tribe [re]designed Android, but I'm betting before. Although Maps, YouTube and Google Earth come on this device, I wasn't able to get any of them working to show you (Maps and YouTube launch, but neither seem to be able to access content. It's quite possible that the server endpoints they used for testing no longer resolve.

Note Pad

Address Book



This doesn't quite work in my build, but here is what the error looks like.


Text Messages


It's quite clear that Android was being designed to a completely different target before the iPhone was released. What we see here would have fitted in perfectly with the world of Symbian and BlackBerry. This early build of Android is in fact even less capable and mature than the 2004 release of Symbian Series 90 (Hildon), the OS that runs on the Nokia 7700 and 7710 - Nokia's first, and only, pre-iPhone touchscreen smartphones. It's not hard to see that iPhone really changed the thinking across the entire industry, and caused everybody to start from scratch. Android, webOS, Windows Phone 7, Windows 8, BlackBerry 10 - all of these exist because of the iPhone, and standing on its shoulders they have made some amazing and unique contributions to the ecosystem.

As I mentioned in my Úll talk last week, the moment we saw the iPhone for the first time it was so clear that everything beyond this point would be completely different - it wasn't just about smartphones, it was about the future of computing. We live in a world that would have seemed distantly futuristic only 5 years ago, thanks to all these OSes. It's amazing how far we've come in such a short time, and I can't wait to see what comes next.

When is a Smartphone OS not a Smartphone OS?

If you're thinking purely in terms of 'smartphones' whenever you think of iOS, Android and Windows Phone, you've blown it. It's so incredibly short sighted to think of these OSes as a smartphone play - they are all so much more than that.

These are the three OSes going to power consumer devices (phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, TVs, etc) for the next 20-30 years, or be the template for such. Google recently bought Motorola, so many assume they'll be making smartphones and tablets under a Google brand. But a key thing being overlooked is that Motorola's smartphones are also PCs; starting with the Atrix, every flagship Motorola phone has had the capability to turn into a laptop or desktop PC, or media center with the requisite dock. You drop the phone in the dock, start using the keyboard and mouse on your big screen LCD, and you have an instant computer - one that was in your pocket seconds earlier.

This is as much a part of Google's strategy as devices; Google is poised to take on the 'PC' market, and Android is finally their vehicle to let them do this.

Many originally called ChromeOS a shot across Microsoft's bow; today, several years later it's unclear where ChromeOS fits into an Android-everywhere strategy. Maybe the two will merge in the future, or maybe ChromeOS is more a research project for 'future disruption', to steal a term from Nokia. I don't think we're ready for a browser-only platform just yet, and I don't think the browser is the final evolution of the web by any stretch. Apps are as much part of the web as websites are; the web won't always mean HTML/JavaScript. Some key problems to solve are compatibility and search across this new web, of course, but that's a whole other article.

With Windows Phone, many posit that Microsoft is moving everything to the Windows RT kernel (aka Windows 8); the phone could be as much Windows 8 as the tablet or desktop. Microsoft have been pretty candid about their duelling Metro/Desktop environments in Windows 8, but it starts to paint a familiar picture once all the information is in play. Your Windows Phone, which may run on ARM or perhaps x86, could dock and power a desktop display, with a mouse, keyboard, and even legacy Windows apps. In the future, I see no distinction between Windows Phone and Windows; for Windows Phone to fail, the entirety of Windows has to go down with it.

A whole new generation of computing, where everything can be powered by one device; that's where Microsoft and Google are positioning themselves. They are platform makers, this is the most obvious and inevitable possible platform play. If you extrapolate a little, it's quite clear that this goes beyond devices; if we're talking about dumb desktop shells that you dock into, why not the same for phones and tablets? What if the computer itself is something you always wear - a wristband perhaps. Wirelessly, it could beam its display to a blank shell of a smartphone in your pocket, or the blank shell of a tablet, or a desktop PC, or augmented reality glasses.

Of course, this won't happen tomorrow, but it could easily happen in the next five years. It's not something on the distant horizon, either. We will start to see more docking phones like Motorola's, or phone/tablet devices like Padfone, or Google's Glasses technology. Eventually the physical connectors will go away, and the docking will all be wireless - at that point, for how long will we still need distinct devices, CPUs, memory and data connections for each display and input mechanism in our lives?

Apple, unlike the other companies, is a device maker, and completely opaque. I'm not sure a single-device strategy would make sense for them, at least in the short term, but I do expect iOS to spread to more devices and form factors. We've already seen it with iPad and AppleTV, and I still feel that iOS and OS X are on a collision course for the desktop. All of these OSes are the mainstream personal computer platforms of tomorrow.

The personal computer hasn't yet come. One day we will be the personal computer. Current generation smartphone OSes are only the tip of the iceberg, and the big players understand this. It's a completely different game being played now. And this, more than anything else, is why companies who think they're just making smartphones (RIM, for example) will have no place in the world of tomorrow.

On Windows Phone 7 and Apps

Much has been said recently about the state of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 re the lack of quality apps. In my mind, there are some pretty big reasons why these quality apps don't exist:

1) The Silverlight framework, used to build all current third-party WP7 apps, is incredibly slow. Because it's running in an environment far from the native code layer, you just can't pull off the same kind of experience you can on an iOS device. I regularly have performance issues in animation and layout code on WP7 that I haven't seen since the original iPhone, but you needn't take my word for it; check any number of apps on the store (Twitter apps, for example) and you will find that scrolling performance is ghastly, or that cells vanish as you scroll (reminiscent of webOS). There is a way to fix this - native code. All rumors point to Microsoft offering native code access to external developers at some point in the future, which should be a massive performance win. Perhaps WinRT is it, and WP8 apps will be code compatible with Windows 8, too. Of course, unless they have a powerful enough native framework to make great UI apps (like UIKit and co are on iOS), it won't make a difference. As an example, compare and contrast Path on iOS vs Path on Android. Good effort, but the Android version is a hollow shell of the iOS app, and that isn't by choice. On WP7, right now all you're going to get are hollow shells of iOS apps - that's all that's possible with Silverlight.

2) This may be a contentious point, but all the good developers and designers are on Mac OS X. This is why the Mac (at least on OS X) has always had the better apps of the two main OSes. This has always been the case, and remains one of the key differentiators on OS X.

These are also the developers and designers making top iOS apps; they likely will not even have a Windows license, a Windows machine, or any access to Visual Studio to develop and test a WP7 app. In short, asking them to use Windows to develop apps is abhorrent to many of them.

These are the people you need to create the great apps. This is also why there are no great apps on Android, either; they don't like Android or its design enough to invest effort in it (some notable exceptions, like DoubleTwist - whose head of design has worked for Apple, and Instagram). The almost universal response from these designers and developers, tho, is that they really like WP7. If I were Microsoft, I would really be paying attention to this: you're not going to get these people by offering money, you're going to get them by making it super easy for them to build apps. If that means you have to build or buy an IDE for OS X, then so be it. Having to reboot out of our native environment into Windows is enough of a deterrent; remember, these people don't need you, you need them. They won't flock to WP7 work to pay their bills, they'll flock to iOS.

These users are key; if you don't convince them to make apps, and provide a framework capable of making the apps they come up with, then your platform will never be good enough. It says a lot that the entire WP7 design team at Microsoft were iPhone users back when I first met them at MIX 2010. Don't squander that opportunity.

High Caffeine Content acquires Storyboards

High Caffeine Content is proud to announce that it has acquired the iPad app Storyboards from M Cubed Software.

Say hello to Storyboards, your new best friend for creating and watching back storyboard sequences. Whether you're working on a film, a presentation or a piece of software, Storyboards can help you lay out your idea.

Look for more information in the coming weeks about the future of Storyboards and the awesome things we have planned.

Until then, you can purchase Storyboards for the introductory price of $2.99 and have a free upgrade to version 2.0 when it launches later this year.

Find Storyboards on the App Store.

The Lotto Machine - A Random Number Generator with Physics!

The Lotto Machine was a project I started on a whim in October 2008; it was one of my first ever test projects for the iOS SDK and as such was a mess of code and hastily-Photoshopped UI. It created a series of ‘balls’, randomized their locations every second, and then chose 7 of them to show at the bottom. It looked awful, though I thought the idea would have been fun. I shelved it, and forgot about it until three years later.

Fast forward to 2011, and I had just started prototyping projects in Cocos2D, with Box2D physics - the usual physics-sandbox style games. One day while reminiscing over shelved or aborted projects, I came across my lottery number generator app. A lightbulb flashed on in my head: this prototype was missing a physics engine!

It didn’t take long before I’d integrated Cocos2D and Box2D into my lottery project, and suddenly I had an app. The Box2D physics engine was key - without it, the app could not exist. There were countless random number generators on the store, but none looked and felt anything like this. I thought I was on to something…

I spared no time in commissioning an awesome artist to turn my crummy prototype into something gorgeous, and as a result ended up with the stunning UI seen in The Lotto Machine. The balls bounce around the drum as you hold the button, and as soon as you let go a series of numbers will pop out of the chute and roll across the shelf. If you move your device about, the accelerometer will also affect the balls and give you a sense of control over the random selection. Not only is it fun to use, but it’s kinda addictive. Just between my first couple of prerelease users the drum was spun 676 times in just three days!

The Lotto Machine is available now from the App Store if you'd like to check it out. Let us know if you win anything with it!