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iPad Mini: Developers react Exclusive
iPad Mini: Developers react
October 24, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

October 24, 2012 | By Eric Caoili
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    24 comments
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Design, Business/Marketing, Exclusive



When the new 7.9-inch iPad Mini releases in a couple of weeks, it will lack the high-resolution Retina display and advanced A6 processor of Apple's other tablets, but that's just fine for some consumers and developers.

"The iPad Mini, to me, looks like the ideal iPad," says David Kalina of Waking Mars developer Tiger Style, one of ten tablet game makers who talked to Gamasutra about their expectations for the new device. For someone wanting a portable tablet that can handle reading, gaming, and web surfing, he thinks the iPad Mini is pefect, even if it does seem relatively underpowered.

And for developers wondering what kind of games they will be able to make for the hardware, Telltale Games' Publishing SVP Steve Allison (The Walking Dead) compares the iPad Mini's guts to the 1.5-year-old second-gen iPad: "It's effectively an iPad 2 under the hood as it relates to computing power for games."

"The iPad 2-esque specs should keep the iPad Mini ahead of most other tablets on the market as far as 3D gaming goes. This is important to us given the other 7-inch range of tablets available that the iPad Mini will compete with are not packing very strong 3D gaming horsepower."

Allison predicts that the smaller form factor will encourage people to carry their iPads with them more often, and wonders if the iPad Mini will eat into the sales of dedicated gaming handhelds even more than smartphones already have. And King.com's Tommy Palm (Bubble Witch Saga) suggests the mini tablet could even impact home consoles, as the smaller device now seems more practical to use as a controller when mirroring games on a TV.

And Big Fish Games' Studios VP Patrick Wylie (Fairway Solitaire) says the smaller screen will make it easier for people to play games in landscape mode "with both thumbs reaching toward the midline instead of requiring a player to use one hand to hold the device and the other to interact with the game."

But having an Apple tablet that makes certain games easier to play and that can fit in people's purses or jacket pockets aren't what developers are most excited about with the iPad Mini...

What developers are most excited about

Almost all of the developers we talked to have high hopes for the mini tablet expanding the iPad line's market share, and bringing more people who will purchase and play games to the platform.

It's not just that the iPad can now reach consumers who want to spend less on a tablet or are looking for a small device; whenever Apple releases new iOS hardware, it tends to sell like gangbusters and set new sales records. And the iPad is already selling great -- Apple has managed move over 100 million iPads since introducing them two and a half years ago.

Zach Gage, developer of SpellTower, believes there's still plenty of room for the iPad to grow, and sees the Mini as an opportunity for the platform to catch up to the iPhone. "One of the things you constantly hear about the iPad market in iOS circles is how much smaller it is than the iPhone market. ... I'm just happy to see Apple taking steps to keep and expand their market share," he says.

"Greater market penetration for the iPad helps legitimize it as a serious gaming platform separate from the iPhone," adds Kalina. "The gaming market on iPad alone is still a little soft to target explicitly, but more affordable iPads means more iPads, which is pretty much good news for everybody."

Supercell's Greg Harper, who serves as a GM for a studio that does target the tablet market explicitly with mid-core titles like Clash of Clans, expects the audience of iPad gamers to see a big boost with the mini tablet. His team is eager to see the platform it's invested so much in take off: "In our view it is the only game platform to deliver a true mass market audience that captures both casual and core game players."

There's also the prospect of iPad developers seeing a pick-up in sales for their existing titles when the iPad Mini begins to send new consumers to the App Store. Amanita Design head Jakub Dvorsky (Machinarium) anticipates that will be the case with the mini tablet, and hopes point-and-click adventure game, which have thrived on the iPad, will capture a lot of those news players.


Firemint's Real Racing 3

Pricing concerns

With a starting price of $330 (16GB, WiFi only) the iPad Mini is the cheapest tablet Apple's ever sold, but it's still considerably more expensive than its rivals, who have had a head start in the mini tablet space.

Amazon, which has had probably the most success in the sub-9-inch tablet market up to this point, offers a 7-inch Kindle Fire for as cheap as $159, and a Kindle Fire HD for $199. Google's 7-inch Nexus 7, which was introduced three months ago, sells for as low as $199.

"I do wish the pricing was a bit more aggressive," comments Kalina. "$330 is kind of a strange price point and a tougher sell when put in contrast with the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7."

Chip Sineni from Horn developer Phosphor Games also says he's "not sure if the price is low enough to persuade anyone on the fence of buying something like the Nexus 7" instead of the Mini, though he believes fans of the Apple platform won't need much convincing.

"I think if Apple had really gone into this market with its guns blazing (A5 processor, Retina display), they might convince Android and Kindle tablet owners to switch, but the price and features don't make me want to stop using my Kindle Fire," remarks White Whale creative director Jason Rosenstock (God of Blades). "This thing seems to be a reader, and there are plenty of more affordable options if you want to read on a tablet, including a trusty old iPad 1."

Some like Fabien Delpiano, director at Pastagames (Rayman Jungle Run), though, argue that competing tablets lack the polish and intuitive interfaces often found in Apple devices, and that consumers won't mind paying extra for that. "[Other companies] try to compensate by being really aggressive on the pricing. I'm not sure this will make the trick," he says.

On a related note, Wylie points out that another Apple product could see its sales impacted by the mini tablet's pricing: "The question may now be whether you buy an iPod Touch or an iPad Mini as a carry-anywhere mobile gaming device." With the cheapest iPod Touch at $300, Apple's handheld now looks like less of a deal compared to the iPad Mini.

Resolution relief

As for adjusting existing games for the new hardware, several developers say they're relieved with Apple's decision to maintain a 1024x768 resolution and 4:3 aspect ratio with the iPad Mini, matching the iPad 2's setup perfectly (and coming out to exactly half of the third- and fourth-generation iPad's resolution).

"I'm really glad they're not pushing another aspect ratio onto us -- that makes our lives quite a bit easier," says Kalina. Recent iOS hardware updates like the iPhone 5's taller screen and the third-gen iPad's Retina display required developers to update their assets for optimal display on the new devices.

King.com's Palm was also happy the studio wouldn't have to devote resources away from working on new projects to adapting games for the new screen size resolution: "That leaves us with more time to focus on our core mission – making great games."

"My only concern is how its new pixel dimensions will affect games," adds Gage, who believes some developers might need to adjust their titles due to the smaller screen size. "I imagine anyone using abstract gestures will find they need to tweak their apps a bit."

That other new iPad

Few expected Apple to announce an update to its standard 9.7-inch iPads just seven months after rolling out the last model, but the company did just that yesterday.

Though the fourth-gen iPad features hardly any dramatic hardware changes other than its faster A6X processor, a number of developers who like to push the limits of iOS hardware, like Phosphor and Amanita Design, are excited by the new model's potential.

"The Mini is pretty much what was anticipated, but the A6X update to the iPad itself was pretty unexpected," says Phosphor's Sineni. "It is nice to see Apple pushing hardware updates when it makes sense, instead of waiting for a year or something -- it keeps the platform moving forward, very quickly."

He continues, "With Apple having three tablet devices on the market more powerful [than the iPad 2, that] means we can finally optimize for these better devices, and increase all the gameplay features."

Other studios like White Whale also see new opportunites for bringing existing titles to the fourth-gen iPad. "We can scale up God of Blades and add some features that were simply too expensive for the older iOS devices," says Rosenstock.

Delpiano joins the chorus, pointing out: "Replacing the [third-gen] iPad was a nice move as it had too many pixels compared to its GPU."

How will it fare against the competition?

Few of the developers we consulted doubt that Apple will dominate the mini tablet market -- just as it has in the traditional tablet and smartphone spaces -- despite its higher pricing and lack of cutting-edge specs.

White Whale's Rosenstock was one of those doubters: "I think [the iPad Mini] can only help iOS developers in the end, but not in a huge way. If Apple decides it wants to make a killer gaming tablet with all the bells and whistles at this size, they could start expanding their gamer audience, but I think this one is for the paperback readers."

Everyone else we talked to expects the iPad Mini to blow all the other 7-inch tablets out of the water. Pastagames' Delpiano argues that the Android OS is years behind iOS's, and its tools lightyears behind Apple's, so he believes the iPad Mini is already coming in with some strong advantages for developers.

Amanita's Dvorsky mentions another Android annoyance: "iPad Mini makes sense as it's maybe the only mini tablet with a reasonable screen ratio. I love Android (more than iOS), but I hate that stupid widescreen on almost all Android tablets. It's great on phones, not so on tablets."

"The iPad Mini will really shake things up in the mini tablet market," adds Supercell's Harper. "The comparisons in [Apple's presentation yesterday] made it pretty clear that the Mini delivers a superior overall experience. It feels like it's going to be tough for those other guys to compete with the Mini in this segment of the market."

Telltale's Allison argues that the mini tablet market wasn't really competitive for publishers in the first place, as he believes the early Android-based hardware that's released in this space has been underpowered.

"iPad Mini will arrive on the market as the most gaming friendly mini tablet on day one. What we can theorize is that if the iPad Mini sells incredibly well, the other mini tablets will likely look to improve their gaming capabilities, specifically 3D hardware specs, to compete. If this happens that will be good for everyone in the games business," says Allison.


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Comments


Joe Woynillowicz
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With our title nearing the end of production I have to say that when the resolution was announced I breathed a huge sigh of relief :)

Jeremy Reaban
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I think they would have done much better had they sold it at $299. People have a tendency to round up, so $330 looks a lot more like twice the price of a N7 or Kindle FireHD.

But I'm sure it will sell well to Apple fans. But I don't see it expanding beyond that. Too much for too little, unless you have a reason to buy an Apple product (ie, already part of their ecosystem).

jin choung
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i do wonder about apple's thinking regarding the price. as soon as the price was announced, apple stock nosedived yesterday. and i anticipated as much before the announcement (but in response to widely circulated rumors of the 329 price point).

i also guessed (and am pretty sure i would've been proved right) that prices @ 275 and ESPECIALLY @250 would've caused apple stock to surge. the reason being that apple is demonstrating that they're really going head to head and take the food out of the mouths of other competitors and widen their user base. this would please share holders and it would be reflected in stock.

and i'm pretty sure those guys at cupertino aren't dumb and knew this as well.

so low price, high stock and high shareholder confidence.

higher price, lower stock and a middling response from shareholders.

so why? i don't get it?

despite their claims, ipad mini can't possibly have been difficult or "revolutionary" to design and implement. 7.9" screens have been done before - this is a manufacturing process that is known (though perhaps not as honed as when implemented by apple). it simply can't be that expensive to manufacture.

but EVEN IF apple would be subsidizing the cost for a time... wouldn't it be worth it in terms of the trade off with higher stock and maybe more importantly, the DEAFENING ROAR OF BUZZ that a $250 price point would have elicited?

it's not like apple is hurting for cash and it's REALLY hard to manufacture the kind of fever pitch that a $250 ipad mini would have engendered.

so why not?

the ONLY reason that comes to mind is their desire to keep ipad mini as a aspirational, upper crust, high end product. to keep some semblance of "price prestige"...

ugh... i generally hate that kind of thinking to begin with but also combined with the notion that volume pricing really does end up making more money than "high end luxury"... especially when the interest for it is population wide and not niche... wtf? what are they thinking?

not to mention ipad 4 7 months after ipad 3...

some mysterious thinking going on.

Michael Rooney
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Are you sure it was the price of the mini and not the announcement of the 4th gen? I think had they not announced the 4th gen iPad yesterday, or announced it with the same specs as the iPad 3 just with lightning cords and some minor improvements their fans wouldn't have felt quite so burned.

Nick Harris
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I think the relatively high price can be explained by Supply and Demand. There will be enough initial demand from the affluent compulsive collectors of cool gizmos for them to fly off shelves without outstripping their ability to supply more from their limited manufacturing base.

Once they have built up their inventory and found ways to reduce the component costs, which commonly happens with console manufacture, you should expect a significant price drop with a marketing campaign that brings it into comparison with the PSVita.

Sony's stock price will likely nosedive a year from now, whilst Apple will spring back from this minor glitch. I wouldn't be surprised if the PS4 failed to materialise, I just hope their talk of it doesn't inhibit sales of the Xbox 1080 as the Playstation 2 announcement eclipsed the launch of the Dreamcast - a calculated manoeuvre that I always regarded as a dirty trick.

Alex Leighton
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Apple buyers would be confused if they came out of the Apple store and there was still money in their wallet. I think you're dead on with the "price prestige", it's the same as everything else they make.. They know people will pay it, so why reduce the price?

David Navarro
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"so why? i don't get it?"

Profit. Actual, real money in the bank is more important than the share price, which is fickle and, frankly, often driven by idiots and/or people gaming the system.

Toby Grierson
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I second Navarro.

And in any case the stock price is usually following everything else; if you look at the fluctuations you often see matching fluctuations in SPY.

Alex Nichiporchik
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Was NOT expecting the 4th gen iPad here, even though it's a minor update (you can argue with this) - I am unsure how Apple will be able to effectively communicate this updated version to general consumers. Especially since odds are you bought the iPad 3 (aka just iPad) 7 months ago.

Interesting to see if they're able to solve it.

Their portfolio of devices is getting more and more fragmented and complicated. It used to be "just an iPad" and clear that an iPhone is a phone, an iPad is an iPad. Now there's something in-between. I'll walk into random Apple stores to see how they train their employees to explain it - that's always fun.

Merc Hoffner
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Samsung might be able to step up to that plate. My pet theory is that Apple has lucked out a bit here, and in a very weird way. Apple brought a whole bunch of patent suits against Samsung, starting a new feud. Why do this with your biggest supplier (Samsung manufactures most of Apple's chips, including their flash memory and even the A6)? To negotiate better prices of course, as is Tim Cook's forte. They intended to injunction their way to higher margins without ever seeing a court room. Too bad an irate judge threw a spanner in the works, forcing both to settle this in court. Result? Apple won, spectacularly. This was a huge backfire (in my opinion). It's left Samsung, their key component supplier, out of pocket and hugely pissed off. They have every right and sensibility to pull their business. They also have the position to stand without Apple's demand. Heck, it turns into an actual advantage for them to stop supplying their biggest competitor at knock down prices. And as Samsung played such a big part in designing and manufacturing the A4 and A5, this would leave Apple truly in the lurch. it's lucky then, that PA semi paid dividends with the A6 just when they needed it. Samsung still makes it, but Apple's ownership means they can readily farm it out in a nick of time. And no, I don't think even Apple is smart and devious enough to have planned this whole thing from the get go. At the end of the day, if I were Qualcomm, I'd be wary to pick up any of this fall out: the market potential may be huge, but Apple is just so dangerous. Perhaps Intel is hungry enough, and one day they'll make ARMs for Apple. That'll be the day.

Kyle Redd
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"King.com's Tommy Palm (Bubble Witch Saga) suggests the mini tablet could even impact home consoles, as the smaller device now seems more practical to use as a controller when mirroring games on a TV."

Yes, the perfect console controller - one that you must constantly look down at in order to know what button you're pressing.

Merc Hoffner
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+ lag?

Duong Nguyen
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It won't replace it but it might augment it if someone builds a controller attachment for it, but Apple would never allow that ( they didn't for their iPhones). Maybe there will be a market for the Android tablets. Kinda like smart glass but with real buttons.

Adam Maceika
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Sadly i agree pricing is a bit ridiculous... I think the only reason Apple gets away with it is because there are always going to be plenty of people to pay their outrageous prices. I would consider buying it if the price was comparable to Nexus or Fire...

David Navarro
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The Nexus and Fire are sold at cost (if not at a loss). That isn't how Apple operates.

Aaron Casillas
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My only thought was, "as long as it's iPad2 = to or +, then you can play my game Amazing Flying Machines!"

Michael Wenk
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I think the iPad mini will be a failure when compared to the other 7" tablets. Other than Apple fanboys, why would you buy it? Its performance looks sub par when compared to other tablets. I see several problems:

- Software: I doubt that apps written for a larger screen will look as good when scaled down. At best it will look strange, at worst, it will royally suck.
- Price: Other than the Apple name, which I don't discount, what is the compelling feature for it? It is at least a 100$ premium against its competitors. If they wanted to be wildly successful they needed to hit the 199$ point. If they want to compete, 249$ would have been the max. 329? No. It will be very similar to why the PSP and Vita sold for crap compared to its competition.
- Video: Sure the 4:3 thing may be nice for developers, but I really wonder about not having a native widescreen resolution. Do you guys really enjoy letterboxing that much?
- Developers: With as many apps in the app store, how do you expect people to find you? Sure you're thinking my app is so awesome, the customers will have to find it. Well no. It doesn't work that way. First off, you're never as awesome as you think, and secondly most people when browsing don't browse thru that much stuff. Developers whine, rightly, about Wii having so much crap out there they can't be seen. Well this will be that but multiplied by 100-1000.

Tom Baird
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Points [Price], [Video], and [Developers] are par for the course with Apple and it hasn't hurt them yet.

As for Software, there will be no visual degradation compared to an iPad 2, since the actual device resolution is the same as the iPad 2, it's simply a higher PPI. In fact if you hold it ~20% closer, it'll be completely indistinguishable.

While I think the iPad mini is a silly idea (I would have preferred an iPod mega :P), I don't know how valid your criticisms are considering they are not unique to this device and are known issues with the entire suite of mobile Apple products, and have yet to harm Apple's reputation.

Michael Wenk
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@Tom Fair points, all of them. In terms of visuals, maybe I'm overreacting, but I figure that when reducing the screen size w/o reducing the resolution will cause details to be lost. Yes there are the same number of dots, but decreasing the size of each dot means my eyes may not see them as well, and that to me translates to looking strange.

And in terms of Apple, when you look at each of their products in the past, the ipod, the iphone, and the ipad, each product was revolutionary, and in a market where there was nothing quite like it at the time. With respect to the iPad Mini, that is not true. Its not revolutionary, and the market it is trying to fill has a bunch in it already. And yes there are a ton of Apple Fans out there, peeps that will buy anything that has the Apple brand on it. But that's not going to be enough this time. And that sir, will be what causes this product to "fail", and I define fail as in not dominating the entire small tablet market.

Curtiss Murphy
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Why the high price? I am unhappy with that and the iPad4 announcement. It was a 'base hit'. Apple will do just fine, but ... they could've hit a home-run at $249.

Jay Jennings
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It's only a high price if you look at the iPad mini as a competitor to the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, etc. But for a moment pretend they don't exist -- with iPad 2 at $400, iPad 3 at $500, the price of the iPad mini makes sense.

Which makes me think Apple never meant the iPad mini to be a "response" to the low-priced 7" tablets. Instead, it's just a different form factor for people who want the iPad (experience) in a more portable size (but not so small as iPod touch).

Jay

David Navarro
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Jay: exactly. The real surprise would have been to see Apple try to compete with tablets sold at a loss.

John Trauger
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"I think if Apple had really gone into this market with its guns blazing (A5 processor, Retina display), they might convince Android and Kindle tablet owners to switch, but the price and features don't make me want to stop using my Kindle Fire,"

Apple would risk cannibalizing iPad 2, 3 and soon 4 sales by putting out a completely kickass Mini.

I find it instructive that this is the second tablet apple has put out to compete with android . It's looking like apple is reacting rather than enacting with the introduction of the the iPad 3 and now the Mini.

It will be interesting to look at the Mini to see if Apple has added any unique touches to the thing. If it's nothing-special apple, we will know Steve Jobs is truly dead and Apple's fall from grace is beginning.

David Navarro
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Apple are going to sell every single one of these things that they manage to make, so pricing it cheaper would have been stupid. The Mini is aimed more at people who were put off by the iPad's size and weight, not at people for whom price is the only concern.

As for those who think this is a "reactive" move or to "compete" with Android - well, for one thing, the price alone would discount this notion, and for another, they seem to forget the iPod/iPod Mini, PowerBook/iBook and all other instances of the "High-end, then low-end" strategy by Apple. This has been their MO for at least a decade.


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