Three years is a long time in the gaming world. Back in 2007, the old firm of Sony and Nintendo looked immovable at the top of the handheld charts. Who would have thought that a mobile phone would be the device to challenge their dominance? The iPhone has taken the games industry by storm, revolutionising digital distribution and plugging a market gap the PSP and DS never fully catered for. After rewriting the book on portable gaming, platform holder Apple is seeking to go one better with its upcoming iPad. Billed as a middle ground between a laptop and a smartphone, the device is surely one of the most anticipated gadgets of recent years. But will it bolster the firm's gaming pedigree or upset the Apple cart?
In terms of hardware, the tablet boasts some impressive specs. Packing Apple's own 1 GHz A4 chip, up to 64 gigabytes of flash storage, a 9.7-inch LED-backlit and IPS display, as well as upgraded multi-touch technology, there's ample scope for the iPad to play host to cutting-edge software. From a design standpoint, the gadget has been built with portability in mind, weighing just 1.5 lbs with a width of 0.5 inches. A screen size of 9.7 inches (about that of an average book) will also allow game developers to embark on more ambitious projects when it comes to App Store releases. Furthermore, an average battery life of ten hours will enable gamers to settle in for a lengthy session without the need to remain in close proximity to a power supply.
From a gaming perspective, an enlarged iPhone with inflated specs doesn't sound like the worst thing in the world, but industry analysts have proven equally dubious. "The Apple tablet is going to be priced pretty high, certainly more than $300 (£196), so it's going to have limited appeal to gamers, although some people will buy it obviously," Wedbush Morgan's Michael Pachter said prior to the device's unveiling. "I think the early offerings on the tablet will be a lot closer to iPod Touch/iPhone style games, and then probably morph into DS kind of games and then ultimately will morph into PSP quality games."
Fortunately for Apple, game developers are more optimistic about the system's potential. Gameloft is one of the market leaders in the handheld sector and has enjoyed great success with iPhone versions of Driver, Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X and the platform-exclusive N.O.V.A. In an interview with Digital Spy, managing director Julian Stocker pledged his studio's support to the device. "We definitely believe in the iPad as a new gaming platform, which will enable a richer gaming experience for end users," he explained. "This should go beyond being just a bigger iPhone or a smaller laptop, as it should fill the gap between the two. As a result, we think that there will also be an audience for the iPad and really look forward to creating a new generation of games that will capitalise on its unique capabilities."
So what kind of games can we expect to see on the iPad? At present, little is known of platform exclusives, but several studios have announced details of enhanced versions of their iPhone fare. Upon the device's unveiling Gameloft revealed details of an iPad-optimised edition of N.O.V.A, adding improved touch-screen controls, sharper visuals and new features. Furthermore, Electronic Arts showcased an advanced version of The Need For Speed Shift, replete with new gameplay options. The number of major software developers backing the iPad seems to grow by the day. Namco, iD Software, Revolution Software and Codemasters are just a handful of studios with designs for the slate.
The iPad will be available to purchase in April.
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