The Story of Signal

July 10, 2008

Now and then I get asked where the idea for Signal came from and how this all got started. Signal’s history is actually a bit longer than you might expect, so for the curious among you here is the tale:

Signal’s story actually begins back in 2001. A bunch of friends and I had just moved to Denver after all being hired straight out of college. After adjusting to a new city, a real job, and actually earning income(!), it was unanimously decided that Life Was Good. This naturally led to more than a few parties, and our place being the biggest (and coolest) was usually the venue of choice. Of course any good party needs good music and this function was served by an MP3 collection delivered through Winamp on my PC. People could queue up songs, add new songs into the library, or just go jump to something particular in the playlist. This all worked out great except for one problem: drunk people kept spilling stuff all over my keyboard.

Now, if you’ve ever had the misfortune of someone at such gatherings having a taste for Aftershock you know that it looks, smells, and tastes like melted Altoids. What you probably didn’t know is that it has an additional hidden property: when someone sloshes it all over your keyboard it instantly and permanently bonds with plastic. This is decidedly not cool when you try to actually use said keyboard post-bonding. This stuff does not come off. A solution was needed, preferably one that stopped turning my keyboard into a makeshift mousetrap.

At work I had been doing some development on Pocket PCs, and while working on the project one day it suddenly dawned on me that using one of these to control Winamp would not only be cool, but also keep the shaky-handed monkeys away from my computer. So after a few hours of work, RemoteAmp (the Remote for Winamp) 0.1 was born. It was a buggy, horrible piece of software, but it worked and people liked it so it slowly gained features and fixes over the next few weeks until it became a fairly functional and stable remote control.

At the time I was completely unaware that people could actually take software like this and sell it on their own, so RemoteAmp existed only as a private utility and occasional hobby for quite a while. Some time later I came across Handango and PocketGear and learned that there was a whole community of people doing exactly this. What’s more, some of these products had the same idea as RemoteAmp - turning your Pocket PC into a media player remote. After trying these out I was left with a strong belief that I could build a better product. So after a few months and far more work than I had been prepared to expect, RemoteAmp 1.0 went out and my journey as an independent software developer began.

There were bugs, features, competitors, promotions, licensing deals - it was a fun and wild ride. RemoteAmp turned out to be a great solution for a lot of people, and is still used by many today. But as time passed interest in the Pocket PC in general began to fade, and despite a lot of cool features being in the works for RemoteAmp 3 the project turned into a lower priority item.

Then came the iPhone.

From the moment I held one I knew it would be the perfect remote. The size was right. The screen was gorgeous. It connected to Wi-Fi almost instantly. And the browser had full AJAX support. When RemoteAmp’s sales had begun to slow I started work on a web-based remote control solution using a completely rebuilt server designed to work on both the Mac and PC. This new server absorbed RemoteAmp’s Pocket PC capabilities as well and the combined product was what would later become Signal. All the pieces were there, I just had to put them together. What followed was weeks of frenzied work finishing the iPhone web interface and testing on actual hardware. Days went by without sleep and were barely noticed, and without a doubt I’ve never been more pumped about a project in my life. Finally the app was deemed ready and Signal 1.0 was released to the world. And so began the adventure.