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Developers React: The iPad's Future

January 29, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

After an interminable cycle of rumors and hype, Apple announced its iPad tablet computing device this week. CEO Steve Jobs considers the product "revolutionary and magical". Others see it as a half-baked attempt to expand the iPod Touch into something to compete with cheap netbooks.

In the gulf between those opinions, it remains to be seen what audience will develop for the platform or how successful it will be. The iPhone has done a great deal to transform the face of the cell phone market -- changing it into one led by smartphones, and delivering a huge number of applications, many of them games, to a receptive audience.

The company recently announced that 3 billion apps have been downloaded from its App Store. At the iPad presentation, Jobs said that 140,000 apps are on the store -- up from the 115,000 claimed earlier this month when the 3 billion downloads mark was first hit.

The same App Store is due to be expanded to the iPad -- again meaning that Apple will control the means and method of delivery to a captive audience.

And while the iPad is fully capable of running existing iPod Touch/iPhone applications, developers can also begin work on expanded versions of iPhone titles, or entirely new games native to the device. On Wednesday, the iPhone SDK was expanded to include an iPad Simulator.

To get an idea of the creative and business possibilities of the device, which launches in the U.S. in about two months, we spoke to current iPhone developers, and technology providers, about its potential impact.

The Technology Angle

Mark Rein, vice president of Epic Games, attended the event in San Francisco and got his hands on the device after the presentation. Says Rein, "I really like the device and I think it is going to be great for gaming. I thought the [Gameloft and EA] game demos at the event were amazing considering the developers on stage only had a few weeks of access to it."

In December 2009, Epic readied a demo of Unreal Engine for iPhone. When asked by Gamasutra if it's safe to assume that it will move to the iPad, Rein replies, "I think that's a pretty safe assumption -- especially considering the iPad appears to already run iPhone games well. We'll have to get an iPad in our hands and evaluate it from a hardware standpoint before we can say for sure what we can do on it but I'm very excited about the opportunity the iPad presents."

Meanwhile, Brett Seyler, VP of strategy at engine provider Unity Technologies, thinks that the launch of the device will be great for his company. Seyler claims that more than 550 games already available in the App Store use Unity.

"It's hard to see the iPad having anything but a significant, accelerating effect on Unity's business, so we're very happy," says Seyler. Like Rein, Seyler pledges to support the new device. "Game developers are clearly on board and really excited to make new games for the device, and our developers having been on a coding frenzy to make sure we've got full support for it as soon as we possibly can."

Seyler thinks that the device's compatibility with existing iPhone games will only help things -- and that audience expansion will help expand the app market, in turn. "The iPad looks like it will expand the reach of these apps, and new ones, to new users and that will make the App Store an even more exciting, diverse marketplace than it is today."

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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hanno hinkelbein
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i think the keyword regarding the ipad is accessabilty. i know a whole bunch of people who own a computer but just can't adjust to the way they work, still having trouble with the simplest things after working with them for years.

like the wii opened the console market for a lot of people who didn't want to mess with "complicated" controls the ipad makes the digital world accessible for people who have trouble with things like attaching pictures to emails (they are around - a LOT of them!!!)

the question is if this will be as revolutionary as apple intends - how will it change budgets and goals for the gaming industry? will the industry focus on casual apps in the future because complex games are not selling as big as they used to or are getting too expensive? and of course the same as in iphone apps: is there any kind of money to be made for a team larger than 3-5 people?

Jeremy Reaban
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Part of the trouble is that the iPhone audience seems to like cheap games, $9.99 is the max, even when they are identical to $30-40 PSP/DS games. Ironically, since it's mostly a device for the well off. Can developers provide upgraded graphics and still charge that little? I imagine we'll see the $14.99 price point emerge, since that's not too uncommon for XBLA/PSN games

Michiel Hendriks
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I see more future in games for (Windows based) netbooks than for the iPad.

Elandar Leenas
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"A non-painful e-reader would be nice."

As an avid ebook fan, I can't stress this point enough. But even if you forget the ebooks, it will very likely become THE device for reading PDF's and all those annoying PowerPoint-sheets.

It's going to be a "meeting"-device.

For that its perfect. (do you remember the marketing campaign for tablet pc's from Microsoft back in 200*?) This might be the product, I was hoping for, when I bought my X41 Tablet. (which is nice, but a fu@%ing pain to navigate)

Based upon this hypothesis, two conclusions can be drawn:

First, no, its not going to be big for gaming

Second, if it's going to be the next mainstream ebook reader, you can set prices like 9.99$ an App. Why? Because ebook Buyers are used to such prices for creative content. And if you target adult readers with ebook/game-hybrid programs like Point&Click Adventures... this might be a way to go.

Mike Lopez
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My $0.02:

- I think the iPad will be very successful, though not as incredibly so as the iPhone/iPod. Regardless of if one loves/hates Apple (or maybe you have a love/hate relationship with them), anyone who counts them out so soon best revisit the history of consumer electronics over the past decade.

- I suspect the iPad demographics will be different than iPhone (at least after the early adopters/Apple fanboys get their fill). I feel the age range will be even wider (young to old) and gender appeal more balanced than traditional consumer electronics (which weigh much more to men). I have no idea how wide or narrow the socioeconomic appeal.

- I suspect the iPad users will expect apps with more content than iPhone (but less still than console), which means larger budgets and (hopefully) less total crapware.

- I agree with one of the quotes that fine accelerometer control will be greatly de-emphasized as an input model for most apps since it will be pretty awkward and tiresome to hold that large unit and do anything repetitive more than a periodic shake of the device; the Need for Speed demo looked cool as a steering wheel input but I suspect after 5-10 minutes of holding/rotating the device the players hands will be ready to fall off.

- In the gaming arena higher content/budget expectations will also mean a shift away from the massive weighting of the casual genre (some will still be there, but not the majority as now). I also suspect pricing will be higher and would not be surprised to see top apps go for $20+.

- Also in gaming I expect we'll see even more games in more genres, especially those with massive content (open-world, MMORPG, etc.)

One thing I am 100% sure of: The adoption and evolution of the iPad will be interesting!

DukeJake R
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Looking at the tech specs at first I thought i'd be better off with a netbook. But looking at it again it looks ideal for lounging on the sofa and surfing the web, watching a film, etc. Netbooks aren't too great for that, the screens are not good enough quality and an iPad would be easier to hold. The iPad keyboard add on makes it good enough for long periods of data entry. Overall I think it looks very promising and when iPad release the v2 (hopefully with camera, multitasking, more memory, etc) it could really come into its own.

Michael Wenk
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I don't think the iPad will fly as a gaming device. It is just too expensive and delivers little vs the competition. If Sony couldn't make the PS3 work at its initial price point than there is little chance Apple will make this one work. I think EA is nuts to support this as enthusiastically, but EA has not been acting very rationally lately...

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Gabriel Kabik
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I don't really understand the comparison between the iPad and the Wii. The Wii wasn't successful outside of the gamer demo just because it was more "intuitive" for a non-gamer than traditional consoles, it was successful in those demos because its game library featured plenty of content that was also accessible and allowed people to do physical things while playing a game. The iPad has the former, but will not have the latter. I mean if the Wii came out and all it had was FPS games, do you really think it would have appealed to anyone besides non-gamers?

There are definitely a certain number of people around the world who will buy the iPad. Apple knows this already. But if they're relying on taking over the netbook market, they're not going to do that. Maybe people who bother to get really into feature comparisons between netbooks and iPads like you and I could see the benefits, but the casual user (i.e. nearly the entire netbook market) does not want to look at what they think is a computer and see an interaction interface that is totally foreign to them in that context. The first thing the casual user is going to say when they see an iPad being offered to them in lieu of an EeePC? "Where's the keyboard?" Even if they're familiar with the iPhone's screen keyboard, they're not going to think of that as a great alternative to a real, physical keyboard. I mean essentially Apple is targeting the same non-existent market that was targeted during the UMPC craze of a few years ago. That era proved that even early adopters don't want feature-crippled laptops mixed with the clunkiness of a giant cell phone. And in high tech, if you don't get the early adopters, you fail. Of course it will move a few hundred thousand units. It's Apple. They could put a USB port on a ham sandwich, call it the "iHam", sell it for $300, and every kid on the L train would have one. But it won't be revolutionary.

David Peterson
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iPhone games have sold way more than I think anyone was originally expecting. Nobody buys an iPhone as a game console, and neither will people buy iPads in order to play games. If they buy it, it will be for other reasons, but games will be a bonus, and a large percentage of iPads will have several games on them. The question is, how many will there be out there?

However, if you already have a game running on iPhones, it seems like getting it working on an iPad will take minimal effort in a lot of cases. In that case, why not expand your market that little big further if it's easy to do?

Logan Foster
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I don't have the highest hopes for the iPad for gaming and if you read between the lines of some of the comments that have been made here in this article and its comments I think you are seeing that most other developers, both large and small, are thinking the same thing but simply do not want to speak out about it because they are afraid of upsetting Steve Jobs and Apple.

Here are my thoughts on why it won't live up to being more than just an oversized iPhone for gaming:

1) Anyone who has worked with OSX will attest to the attrocious "hackity" half-done implementation of OpenGL is for the OS and as such I have a great concern over how bastardized the OpenGL ES drivers are for the iPad and whether or not they will be able to deliver what is needed without causing signifcant pain and frustration for developers.

2) I honestly do not see the hardware specs running the device being that much greater. Yes its better than a 3GS device, but that isn't saying a lot.

3) Keeping games under the 10mb limit (especially with the Apple compression bloat) will be difficult if you want to best support both the iPhone and iPad screen resolutions nicely. I dont care what Apple claims, you cannot blow up pixels without some sort of unwanted distortion. So with that said, we will see more and more 100+mb games that really arent that impressive in nature and sadly these are the good AAA ones.

4) Bigger does not mean better. The device looks awkward to hold and even with the extra screen size I still do not believe that the virtual control overlay will succeed. Worse yet the device is not very mobile and for the most part almost every Game on the appstore is designed around the "5 minutes of casual" play logic (especially considering how lackluster the devices are for doing anything more than this).

5) AppStore prices. I find it odd that ebooks will go on this device for near retail prices, yet games for the AppStore will continue to get the royal hose job and still come in a $1 or $2 for the cheap-ass Appstore crowd. As such even if the device has the hardware and non-Apple screwiness to make it into a decent gaming platform will we ever really see games that utilize it best and present anything more than what we have already? I think not.

So with that said do I think the device will be a flop? More than likely? I think right now its best usage is as a coffee table device for casual web surfing at home. Its too big to be mobile and too lacking to be a real computer that people will use for traditional real-world usage (aka games and business).

Lastly, is it just me or does anyone else find it odd that neither Epic nor Unity recieved an iPad to work with yet EA and Gameloft did? You're talking about two major engine developers that had to sit on the outside like the rest of us. Thats absolutely rediculous. Apple should have hired these guys as consultants to find out what they need and want in the device (like MS and Sony do), not the other way around. This just reeks of more "Apple doesnt give a shit about game developers" problems that have plauged Apple for the past 20 years.

Simon Tai
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As far as Apple is concerned, gaming just another aspects of the apps. From the genearl strategy point of view, create the platform and give enough support, then everything else will fall in place, or that's how the innovation text books will tell you these days. Perhaps, it would be easier to see it as another console or platform if you will. With fixed hardware spec, the platform usually defines spectrums of games and its audience. In the case of iPad, the hardware does seem to drive the games into a new realm of multi-touch mechanisms, which I hope to see many new innovations in games. Then again, it would be much easier just to port games from 10-15 years ago, e.g. StarCraft, and make money from established titles.

Dolgion Chuluunbaatar
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Im not sure the iPad will do well as a gaming device, but it sure has so much potential for other uses. Businessmen will love it, students will love it, and people who just want the web and movies in their laps will love it. No mouse, no keyboard and so thin, it has a lot of plusses over a netbook IMO. People can get used to soft keyboards easily and navigation is simply more intuitive with a touchscreen.

I think this is serious competition for the netbooks (and therefore for Chrome OS, anybody thought of that yet?).

Btw I find it funny that Mr. Jobs boasts of 1Ghz CPU in his iPad when Google came up with a 1Ghz Android phone BEFORE the iPad is even launched. :D

Richard Cody
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It could work as a stay at home mom's computer. I don't see this working as Apple says -as a middle man- but as a new age computer designed for simplicity I think it's a start.

Games will sell once it establishes itself as a legitimate home computer. A webcam, (maybe) a more comfortable method to type outside of the dock, a digital ink type screen (imo, that's why e-readers are so appealing), and an easier way to base media out of it (as opposed to bringing it in from a home cpu).

After those issues are solved I'd say gaming has a chance.