The Internet Archive has launched a Handheld History Collection filled with about 60 emulated versions of retro handheld games to take you back to the long car rides of your childhood. Archived games include Tiger Electronics’ Mortal Kombat, Bandai’s Burger Time, and Parker Brothers’ mini tabletop version of Q*bert, all of which can be played directly from your browser. MAME developers have classified over 200 games as “handheld,” so if you don’t see your favorite game on the list, be patient because more games will be added soon.
Archivist Jason Scott outlined the emulation process of LCD, VFD, and LED-based games to MAME, and the thoughtful consideration that goes on behind determining which games need to be preserved for posterity. Though it’s possible to read the chips of a circuit board without destroying the original machine, some LCD games have to be taken completely apart to extract all the information.
Though the physicality of holding and playing games on the plastic hardware makes for the most authentic experience, destroying one handheld so it can be played by future generations online still a necessary sacrifice in order to preserve gaming history. The Handheld History collection is a welcome addition to the Internet Archive’s already excellent lineup of archived games, including MS-DOS and classic console games from Atari and ColecoVision.
Really excited to see one of my all time favourite handhelds here from when I was a kid. No idea what it was called but the colour screen blew me away when I first saw and I spent all the money I had at the time on it. It seems to be called Heiankyo Alien (Gakken). Played it so much it used to send my brain loopy. Some would say the damage was irreversible. See the first attempt at my own little game development attempt for evidence of the earlier statement.
The author of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy knew a thing or two about life, the universe and everything.
From potatoes to peer groups, Bach to bullies, here are some of Douglas Adams’s finest words of wisdom…
“A learning experience is one of those things that says, ‘You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.’”
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
“Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”
“The quality of any advice anybody has to offer has to be judged against the quality of life they actually lead.”
“I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t know the answer.”
“It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.”
“All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.”
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
“The idea was fantastically, wildly improbable. But like most fantastically, wildly improbable ideas it was at least as worthy of consideration as a more mundane one to which the facts had been strenuously bent to fit.”
“I’d far rather be happy than right any day.”
“Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn’t developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don’t expect to see.”
“Reality is frequently inaccurate.”
“What I need… is a strong drink and a peer group.”
“It is folly to say you know what is happening to other people. Only they know, if they exist. They have their own Universes of their own eyes and ears.”
“There is no point in using the word ‘impossible’ to describe something that has clearly happened.”
“One is never alone with a rubber duck.”
“Beethoven tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it’s like to be human. Bach tells you what it’s like to be the universe.”
“Anything that thinks logically can be fooled by something else that thinks at least as logically as it does.”
“Let the past hold on to itself and let the present move forward into the future.”
“I don’t accept the currently fashionable assertion that any view is automatically as worthy of respect as any equal and opposite view.”
“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
“The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks.”
“Life is wasted on the living.”
“There are some people you like immediately, some whom you think you might learn to like in the fullness of time, and some that you simply want to push away from you with a sharp stick.”
“I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”
“All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it’s pretty damn complicated in the first place.”
“Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
“A life that is burdened with expectations is a heavy life. Its fruit is sorrow and disappointment.”
“If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a non-working cat.”
“People who need to bully you are the easiest to push around.”
“We have normality. I repeat, we have normality. Anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem.”
“Beauty doesn’t have to be about anything. What’s a vase about? What’s a sunset or a flower about? What, for that matter, is Mozart’s Twenty-third Piano Concerto about?”
“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
“Even a manically depressed robot is better to talk to than nobody.”
“My universe is my eyes and my ears. Anything else is hearsay.”
“If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.”
“A cup of tea would restore my normality.”
“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”
“It can be very dangerous to see things from somebody else’s point of view without the proper training.”
“You live and learn. At any rate, you live.”
“Don’t believe anything you read on the net. Except this. Well, including this, I suppose.”
Microsoft’s difficulties in the mobile market are no secret, but for a time the company looked as if it was keeping Windows Mobile as a going concern regardless. Through 2016, Microsoft produced new builds for the Windows Insider program and added new features to Windows Mobile. At around the time of release of the Windows 10 Creators Update in April this year, that development largely ground to a halt. Windows Mobile, which already lacked certain features that were delivered to Windows on the PC, had its development forked. PC Windows development continued on the “Redstone 3” branch (which will culminate in the release of the Fall Creators Update later this month); Windows Mobile languished on a branch named “feature2.”
But in spite of this, until Belfiore’s tweets at the weekend, Microsoft never actually said what its plans for Windows Mobile were or how it would be developed going forward.
We have tried VERY HARD to incent app devs. Paid money.. wrote apps 4 them.. but volume of users is too low for most companies to invest. ☹️ https://t.co/ePsySxR3LB
Answering another question on Twitter, Belfiore explained that Microsoft never got over the app incentive hurdle, with a user volume too low to justify the investment from app developers. In late 2017, with the platform all but extinct, that’s not tremendously surprising. Over the last year, sales of Windows Mobile devices collapsed. Two to three years ago, annual sales of Windows Phones numbered in the tens of millions; now, they’re close to zero.
For fans of the platform—and I’m one—the statement… the admission… is just confirmation of what we’ve long suspected but hoped to avoid. The Windows Phone design, with its bold Live Tiles, white-on-black theme, and crisp design, is still the mobile platform that I find most pleasant to use. It’s clean and attractive and thoughtful in a way that the competition just isn’t. We wanted it to succeed because we liked the product.
An inauspicious start
What makes Microsoft’s position particularly disappointing, at least for this writer, is a continued sense that it didn’t have to be this way. In developing Windows Phone and Windows Mobile, Microsoft made a number of fumbles.
The company was too slow to grasp the importance of capacitive screens and finger-first user interfaces. Instead of seeing the iPhone and immediately starting development on Windows Phone, the company first tried to graft some basic finger-friendly interface features to the (old) Windows Mobile—an operating system that remained fundamentally stylus-oriented—with miniature replicas of mouse interfaces.
On one level, this decision was understandable, because it’s a model that had proven hugely successful for Windows and modestly successful for Windows Mobile in the pre-iPhone era. But on another level, it was clearly a mistake: the head-to-head competition in this market wasn’t iOS (because Apple doesn’t license iOS to third parties) but Google’s Android. And while there were (and are) licensing complexities around the Google Apps and Google Play Store, the core Android operating system was and is zero cost for hardware companies. Anyone can throw some parts into a phone-shaped box and slap Android onto it without paying Google a penny.
Microsoft then subjected users of this nascent platform to a painful transition. Windows Phone 7 was derived from the old Windows Mobile software. Windows Phone 8, released in late 2012, was not; it was a sibling to the desktop Windows operating system using the Windows NT kernel. Strategically, this was the right thing to do. Microsoft unified its Windows development using a common operating system kernel and, increasingly, developer APIs across phones, tablets, laptops, desktop PCs, servers, and even the Xbox and HoloLens.
But the move was not without pain. Windows Phone 7 devices couldn’t be upgraded to Windows Phone 8, leaving early adopters with phones that were prematurely end-of-lifed and a bad taste in their mouths. Moreover, the mere work of moving to the common kernel and APIs was such a huge undertaking that it didn’t give Microsoft much time to actually work on features and capabilities. Windows Phone 7 had a feature deficit relative to Android and iOS, and Windows Phone 8, rather than closing this feature deficit, was instead focused on updating and replacing the operating system’s core.
A company that had more immediately recognized both the threat and the opportunity the iPhone represented, as well as the business transformation that Android made inevitable, might well have avoided these problems. Quicker adoption of true touch interfaces, a decision to use a common NT kernel platform from the outset, a move to a store-based revenue model rather than operating system licensing; in hindsight, Microsoft could have made better decisions and made them sooner. Doing so might well have made Windows Phone a more successful platform.
Green shoots of success
In spite of all of this, there was some cause for optimism. The first generation of Windows Phone 8 handsets from Nokia were well received. Nokia had a good selection of phones from the flagship Lumia 920 down to the cheap and cheerful Lumia 520. Strong cameras became something of a Lumia trademark, and Windows Phone-specific design elements—such as a dedicated camera button with half-press autofocus—provided thoughtful differentiation. The enormous Windows Phone 8.1 update added a range of useful features, including a best-in-class swipe-based keyboard.
As much as the platform had struggled since its 2010 launch, the wave of 2012 and 2013 hardware and software releases appeared to put it on a surer footing. At the low end, devices like the Lumia 520 offered a true smartphone experience that Android struggled to match. Comparably priced Android hardware wasn’t as good: the software felt slower; the hardware felt less carefully constructed. And at the high end, the attractive software and high-end cameras were enough to pique interest. Per Kantar Worldpanel, Windows Phone hit a 12-percent market share in the UK in August 2013; 12.9 percent in France in November 2013; 17.1 percent in Italy in December 2013; 10.5 percent in Germany even as late as August 2015. The domestic story was never as good; Windows Phone barely cracked 5 percent in the US, which for an American company was always awkward.
These numbers still left Windows Phone in third place (or, occasionally, second place in markets with particularly weak iPhone penetration). But the trajectory was upwards, with a platform and product mix that was suitable for a wide range of audiences. In September 2013, Microsoft announced plans to buy Nokia’s phone business in a deal that cost $7.1 billion and wouldn’t close until April 2014. The future felt promising: keep the same product mix, keep making the platform better, and Windows Phone looked well positioned to, at the very least, stake out a solid third place and perhaps make a challenge for second place.
Stumble after stumble
But then things faltered. That product mix fell apart. Instead of annual updates to its phones offering incremental improvement—the model proven by, among others, Apple and Samsung—Nokia’s replacements for the Lumia 520 were worse in virtually every regard, and its high-end successor never even made it to market at all. Nokia’s product pipeline was deeply flawed, and the momentum of 2012 and 2013 was squandered.
Compounding this, Microsoft was making a second platform transition. Windows Phone 8 moved to the NT kernel and some shared APIs between phone and desktop; Windows Mobile 10 greatly increased the compatibility between phone and desktop, with Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP) representing a common set of APIs for application that spanned both form factors. As before, this was a strategically important move to make, but, as before, it came at a high price: many Windows Phone 8 devices did not receive an official upgrade to Windows Mobile 10, and Windows Mobile 10 did relatively little to improve the actual end-user appeal of the operating system. Instead of a series of Windows Phone 8.1 and 8.2 updates to strengthen gaps and build a better platform for end-users, there was a period of stagnation.
As if the hardware and software missteps were not enough, public displays of “no confidence” were the final nail in the coffin of the platform. In July 2015, Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, announced that 7,800 employees, primarily from the company’s hardware division, were to be laid off, while the near-$8 billion value of the Nokia business was to be written down. Sources close to the matter tell us that these layoffs are the reason, for example, for the lack of CDMA support in Windows Mobile 10: the people with the relevant technical expertise were simply let go.
We’ve also heard of consequences beyond that; people within the company have told us that Microsoft’s tardiness at updating the Surface Pro, for example, was fallout of these hardware layoffs. Microsoft didn’t (and perhaps still doesn’t) have enough personnel to develop the Xbox One S, Xbox One X, and Surface Studio and revise the Surface Pro and Surface Book at the same time.
In its stronger markets, Windows Phone just about held steady over 2014 before declining sharply in 2015 and 2016. The lack of desirable hardware, the lack of progress in the software, and the lack of management support meant that, instead of building on the successes of 2012 and 2013, Windows on phones was allowed to die.
We’ve heard from people within the company that a choice had to be made; developing a decent hardware pipeline would have required further investment in the Nokia phone business, perhaps of the order of a billion dollars. The alternative was to not make that investment and scale things back. That’s the decision that was taken, and Belfiore’s tweets over the weekend are the ultimate consequence of that decision.
We might well wonder why Microsoft didn’t say so sooner and instead strung along not only the platform’s fans but even OEM partners; it’s hard to imagine that HP would have built its Elite x3 phone had Microsoft been clearer about mobile.
Even with this announcement, there’s still speculation that Microsoft is going to bring out a new device—something phone-like but not a phone—that’ll compete, somehow, in the mobile space. For all the rumors about a “Surface Phone,” though, it’s unclear precisely what this device would do that is meaningfully different from anything else on the market or if it will be compelling enough to reverse the company’s mobile fortunes. For now, all we can do is mourn: the best mobile platform isn’t under active development any more, and the prospects of new hardware to run it on are slim to non-existent.
As for me, I switched to an iPhone more than a year ago. Every day, I’m struck at how the main user interface is basically that of Windows 3.1’s Program Manager, and iOS 11 has been fantastically unstable for me. I don’t enjoy iOS in the way I enjoyed Windows Phone. But it’s actively developed, and third-party developers love it, and, ultimately, those factors both win out over Windows Mobile’s good looks and comfortable developer platform.