The Pocket Gamer Report: Will Apple Get a Clean Slate in Gaming?


If you keep up with the technology blogs of the day, you’ve probably heard about Apple’s mythical new tablet device, penciled in for a January 27th announcement. There are a great many reasons why people are getting excited about Apple’s forthcoming new device, but in many ways it’s hard to understand why gaming is one of them.

The problem isn’t that touch screen gaming isn’t any good – both the DS and the iPhone have ably demonstrated that it is. The problem is rather likely one of demand. Would you buy a new, more expensive version of the PS3 just because it was capable of working with a bigger screen?

That’s a very negative note to start on, so let’s deal with the potential positives for now.

There are certainly some types of gaming experience which could benefit from an enlarged touch screen. The most obvious thing that jumps out is the RTS genre. Titles such as Command & Conquer could be significantly improved with an enlarged touch screen, allowing for a less screen-hogging set of menus, a larger overall view of the battlefield, and less fiddly unit selection.

Similarly, titles that require extensive multi-touch inputs would also benefit, such as Cross Fingers or any one of the now enormous stable of line-drawing games fashioned from the Flight Control mold.

But what about racing games, platforming games, first-person shooters, third-person action games, role-playing games – what does a larger touch screen bring to those types of experience?

It’s perhaps unfair to speculate too much on this topic, given that the iSlate, iTablet, or whatever Apple ends up calling it hasn’t actually been unveiled yet. Until we know specifically what the form factor is, or indeed what its operating system is, it’s impossible to know what sort of gaming potential the device will have.

The latest reports indicate that the new device is an “iPhone on steroids.” If this is true, where does an oversized iPod touch with a beefed up processor fit into the gaming landscape?

The truth may be that the device is not intended to fit the gaming landscape at all – after all, Apple’s involvement with the games industry is still a very recent affair. The harsh fact of the matter is, however, if the new device is capable of running games built with the iPhone’s SDK, then developers will try to make the shoe fit.

The sizes reported (i.e. a single screen device with a 10-inch OLED) certainly reduces its portable appeal in terms of gaming, but the controls could also suffer. Practical considerations for computing uses aside, the gaming ramification of a 10″ screen held horizontally is that human thumbs just aren’t big enough to make use of the space for conventional gaming input commands.

There goes that word, “conventional.” It’s not a word Apple is very comfortable with, as its marketing slogan, “Think Different,” testifies. And therein lies a potential answer to the “tablet device as portable gaming machine” conundrum. There’s a very good chance that it isn’t and has never been considered something you might play games on.

Perhaps questions about the Apple tablet’s potential lack of suitability to gaming, or its general lack of suitability to established personal computing tasks, reflect the collective near-sighted view of Apple’s intentions. Apple is famous for creating, or at least popularizing, new device-line categories – the touch screen smartphone, the all-in-one-shell PC, the under the TV content server and even, lest we forget, the portable digital media player.

What if the Apple tablet is a home computing device, as portable as a laptop, but designed to interface with your home TV in some way for basic computing, music, video and games? What if it’s a dual screened replacement for the laptop, much like Microsoft’s tantalizing Courier concept? What if it’s simply a one screened version of the Macbook Air, complete with a touch screen-optimized version of Snow Leopard?

There’s one much bigger question that we scarcely dare ask. What if the Apple tablet doesn’t even exist at all?

Pocket Gamer is Europe’s leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.

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