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.
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."