Carter Dotson is a freelance writer from Texas, covering the mobile and gaming industries since 2009. He has written for 148Apps since 2010, and hosts the weekly mobile gaming podcast The Portable Podcast.
What do today’s more powerful specifications mean for the future of iOS gaming? The A5 devices can now accommodate games that rival the graphics and complexity found on consoles. Furthermore, many current games will now be able to support better graphics on the A5 chip; games such as Infinity Blade and Dead Space were updated to support the improved capabilities of the A5 when the iPad 2 was released. It’s likely other games will get similar updates with the release of the iPhone 4S.
Three particular technologies will highlight the A5 chip’s capabilities.
The Unreal Development Kit
First, the Unreal Development Kit allows developers to utilize the powerful Unreal Engine, which powers many PC and console games (most notably the Gears of War series), for iOS games. The Infinity Blade 2 demo at the “Let’s talk iPhone” event demonstrated the console-quality detail users can look forward to. Alongside more powerful hardware, full-fledged console and PC-style Unreal Engine games on iOS are now a reality.
The second technology is Unity. While this engine has been used in iOS games for years, one recently released game illustrated the engine’s console-quality capabilities: Shadowgun. This game features an impressive level of detail, even on A4 devices, but even greater quality when played on the iPad 2′s A5 chip. Hundreds of 3D games use Unity as well; look forward to their impressive visuals thanks to A5 chip technology.
Flash-Based Gaming via Adobe AIR
The third and somewhat unlikely candidate is Flash-based gaming through Adobe AIR. The point-and-click adventure game Machinarium was recently ported to the iPad 2 using Adobe AIR. These types of games may need the A5 chip to run properly on iOS, so the new iPhone 4S will open a much bigger market for them. And, Machinarium managed to reached number one in the iPad App Store, despite being limited to iPad 2. So restricting support to only A5 devices is not necessarily a detriment to sales. More popular hardware-intensive Flash games will be making their way to iOS.
The Value in Older Hardware
Despite the A5 chip gaming advancements, Apple will also keep older hardware in play, particularly third-generation devices: the iPhone 3GS and iPod touch 3rd generation.
Apple only gave the iPod touch a cosmetic upgrade, in place of any internal hardware upgrade. After all, Apple described the iPod touch as the most popular handheld gaming console in the world. Apple has typically let its devices remain in use with updates for two years. If this pattern holds true, the A4 devices will be around for awhile. Many games won’t need more powerful hardware after all. For example, Where’s My Water is not a hardware-taxing game, and yet it currently sits at number one for paid apps on both the iPhone and iPad (as of this writing).
Apple retains the iPhone 3GS as a means of bringing customers into the fold of iOS, when they otherwise might not have ever owned an iPhone at all. Apple’s exciting little secret is that the phone is still quite capable. It features the same amount of RAM as the iPod touch 4th generation and the original iPad. And while its processor is slightly less powerful, it features a lower-resolution screen for games to render. This will help developers continue running demanding games on lesser hardware. In fact, 3D games will likely have similar performance on the iPhone 3GS as on the A4 devices’ Retina Display resolution.
It’s telling that Infinity Blade 2, the same game used by Apple to show off the A5′s capabilities, will be available for the iPhone 3GS. The hardware is still capable, so there’s no reason for it to go away any time soon.
While gaming has the potential to advance to all-new levels — and there will be games that exploit the A5 processor’s power — the majority of games should be perfectly playable on all current iOS devices for the foreseeable future. Apple appears to be playing both sides of the gaming market here: welcoming games that push the newest hardware envelope, while also allowing older-generation devices to play the majority of new releases. It’s this flexibility that will continue to strengthen the App Store gaming market.
What do you think? Will mobile iOS games begin to rival console games? Are you interested in buying an iPhone 4S to play the latest and greatest titles? Let us know in the comments below.