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
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.
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.