The iPhone C64 Emulator and Progress=Change

Chipmusic is about accepting the system’s features (aka limitations), and expanding them (aka breaking them). 30 years of new sounds shows how a culture can progress through software and not hardware updates. Competition and community, trial and error & rationalism has contributed to it. But it presupposes that you are allowed to do what you want with the technology.

The C64 iPhone emulator was released in September as the first multi-purpose emulator on the iPhone. But Apple does not allow users to run downloadable code on the iPhone. Apple wants to retain control over what software is running on the iPhone (avoidable by jailbreaking and e.g. cydia). But since the C64 has a built-in BASIC programming language, Apple cannot stay in control. So the solution was to remove BASIC from the emulator, and offer a selection of something like 5 games. In that way, users cannot make their own software and they cannot load whatever software they want. This is the complete opposite to the hippie-libertarian-multimedia ‘coolness’ that has been around Apple since the 1970s. You know, Bill Gates writes a letter in 1976 to promote software copyright and ever since Apple has been cool and Microsoft evil…?

Whatever. But the iPhone C64-emulator transforms the C64-system into a restricted gaming console (but, but). Surely, 8-bit computers are often described as gaming computers. Indeed, they were developed (also) for gaming purposes, and not colourless and soundless business purposes. But they were not read-only and interpassive like consoles, so they should not be remembered, emulated and discussed as such. It is (even) harder to talk about intented uses of computers compared to e.g. Gameboy and NES, in that sense. Ie, there is nothing necessarily subversive about making your own music and software on a C64, even if chipmusic is often described in that way.

While the iPhone C64-emulator is just a piece of entertainment software, it plays part in a larger tendency to reduce old technology to something simplistic, something limited. But limited in what sense, and according to who? I can turn on my C64 and start programming in 1 second, and make music in 1 minute. I can easily have it fixed when it’s broken, or atleast understand what the problem is. I have access to 25 years of software and knowledge, and with a lack of commercial interests I do not have to consider intellectual property regulations. I don’t find 3 channels of sound to be limiting; I think it’s empowering. Of course, digital technology is improving in many quantitative and qualitative ways, enabling users to do more, and faster. But it is not a one-dimensional line of neutral progress – it is change, resulting from economic, cultural, social, and aesthetical values. New technology is not better per se. Even if it is, it doesn’t mean that new ideas require new technology. That modernist idea has been questioned in so many other fields, but is painfully present in digital media.

Oh well. So… here is some of little-scale’s soundchip-related iPhone apps! (Btw, does anyone know how the emulator can be sold, being based on the GPL-licensed Frodo?)

10 Responses to “The iPhone C64 Emulator and Progress=Change”

  1. yonxUP Says:

    the GPL-license allows commercial use, simple as that :)

  2. TRUE CHIP TILL DEATH • TCTD micronews for 2009-11-28 Says:

    […] on the c64 iPhone app as game player vs emulator debate: […]

  3. yonxUP Says:

    also, in this case apple is not reducing the c64 to something simplistic but is rather aware that the full c64-environment can be a possible iphone-exploit..
    i’ve never understood this debate, people who needs a full c64 environment can just jailbreak the phone, and people who cannot jailbreak are not old enough for running possibly malicious code on a device which can generate a phonebill worth of 1000s of c64s by calling secret numbers ;)

  4. edwardK Says:

    @yonxUP: what the phuck are you yabbin’ about? people haven’t gone to jail for c64 cracking for several years.. use a feckin’ CC if you can’t call out!

  5. chipflip Says:

    @yonx: Apple sees the power of the c64, and felt obliged to reduce it. home computer terrorists must be stopped. i guess in the end, my critique is on a more general level, towards reducing old systems to what “we” think they are now. people talk about c64 as a gaming machine, and it gets emulated as such.

  6. yonxUP Says:

    @chipflip: yeah, i get your point, i am just teasing :)

    but the reduction was always present long before emulation, both for the c64 and especially the amiga which actually for a while competed with professional systems although being reduced to a simple gaming machine for kids.. isn’t that general view of those systems what has fueled the “rebellious” religions of those machines? i actually spoke a while ago about this with a specialist on trademarks and marketing who claimed that this love/hate-relationship to the public view of a system is what holds the foundation of loyal followers. people enjoy taking on the role as “outsiders” rather than going with the mainstream, so do we really want our old machines to be looked upon as professional systems in the end? wouldn’t that take away some of the magic? :)

  7. chipflip Says:

    very nice point with the relationship between commercial marketing and personal motivations. we all like to think that we’re doing something special, that we’re transgressing hardware or norms. this is something easily done with old hardware, amplified by saying that it’s videogame hardware. with modern hardware it’s more difficult to claim the same transgressive uses. by using 8-bit hardware you can get away with a lot… :/

    but marketing should not be reduced only to gaming & entertainment. i think programming/graphics/education/music/recipes/office-discourses were atleast important alibis for kids to make their parents pay.

    so sure, framing the c64/amiga as limited gaming devices today, fits with progress-dogmas and gives more cred for 8-bit artists. and as we know, the gameboy is the best example of this – like the poster-boy (ha!) for chip-stuff. but from a sociological view (bourdieu), this win-win situation only reinforces existant power relations and ideas. chipmusic doesn’t rebel or resist or subverse, it merely uses and reinforces the idea that new hardware is better than old. but yeah, i guess that is straying off your point a bit.

  8. DNA Says:

    I just noticed you had linked to my site in this article and thought I would stop by and give it a read and say hello.


    And regarding the sale of the Emulator on the App Store, I spoke to Stuart Carnie the CTO at Manomio and he told me it was fully licensed. Though rumors are they don’t have any source code to provide on request, so that puts them in violation of the GPL as far as I know.

  9. mrsid Says:

    If you check under Advanced/Information, you’ll see that you can request the source at
    The C64 trademarks have been licensed from Commodore Gaming B.V., which seems to hold them, at least during this month. ;)

  10. Media Convergence as Bubble-Bubble | CHIPFLIP Says:

    […] the original machine. They are not worse or better – they are just different. One example is the C64-emulator for iPhone that wasn’t allowed to include BASIC. Coding is not something that the iPhone should support. So the C64 became yet another boring […]

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