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Anonymous:Long live the IPad....
Apple's top brass unfurled all the banners and fired off all the fireworks for the January 27th announcement of their much-hyped iPad tablet device, which seemed to be all things to all people, at least before the public announcement. Once the thick fog of hype and rumors was dispelled, the iPad has turned out to be, in a nutshell, the bigger brother of the iPod Touch. With it, the iPad inherits many of the inherent software-related benefits and also the hardware-related faults that has nagged at people in search of the perfect gadget.
When it's launched at the end of March the iPad will come outfitted with a 1 GHz proprietary Apple processor, a 1024x768 9.7" LCD standard definition screen with multi-touch capabilities, integrated Bluetooth and 802.11abgn wireless, with Wi-Fi and 3G models. The iPad will also come in 16, 32, and 64 GB storage flavors, much like the hierarchy of iPhone and iTouch models. The baseline weight for the iPad is about one and a half pounds. Not so lightweight is the price, which starts at $499 and takes off from there depending on the configuration.
What's missing from the iPad will depend on your point of view. If you're going to compare the iPad to a netbook, it's going to come up short in a few key ways. No video camera, no multitasking, no keyboard, no ability to import files outside the App Store, no Flash support, and more expensive than your average netbook. By the way, a netbook can play plenty of basic online client- or browser-based games at least reasonably well. Of course, a netbook is designed to be a Swiss Army Knife, while the iPhone is the Ginsu knife set for multimedia, e-book reading and apps -- including games.
Ah yes, apps. It would be so easy to write the iPad off as another foray into Newton territory for Apple. What is keeping the iPad from being the badly named, socially awkward kid at the dance is the iTunes and the App Store channel, which the Newton didn't have at the time. Looking specifically at the App Store, any Apple device that connects to the App Store, which has driven over 3 billion downloads of well over 100,000 apps, has already got a huge advantage in seducing developers and the buying public. Thanks to the iPad sharing in common the iPhone's operating system, the iPad will also be backwards compatible with every iPhone/iTouch application made so far, so there will be consumer access to a huge library of useful, entertaining and interactive content from the start.
So, what should iPad game developers keep in mind before seriously considering chasing after a dev kit?
Online Capabilities: The iPad is technically not tied as tightly to AT&T as the iPhone has been. Even so, for all intents and purposes if an iPad user wants connectivity to broadband Internet away from a wireless router leash, he or she must go through AT&T for a 3G non-contract monthly plan. However, AT&T has been dogged by concerns about the reliability of their 3G in metropolitan areas and access to 3G at all outside the bigger cities. Why should this concern developers? If a developer plans to create a bigger and more complex game, especially with online connectivity, this is a definite consideration. Will users be able to download a 30 megabyte app? Will they be able to play in real-time against live iPad-wielding opponents without lag or signal loss?
Bumping up the Creativity: Game developers are faced with a double-edged sword with the iPad. Should developers simply re-tool an existing iPhone game, reassemble the user interface elements, remix the textures at a higher -resolution and higher detail and call it "Popular Game: iPad Edition"? It'll be an enticing option to churn out slightly upgraded iPhone content designed to cash in on the iPad while it's hot. Creating brand-new new games for a larger screen that takes full advantage of the faster hardware will take as long as two years, similar to consoles. Hardware-pushing, genre-busting games usually take a while to create as developers find their footing. In the meantime, don't hold your breath for anything truly original on launch day.
Dealing with the Design: The iPad's aesthetics are a game-changer. Most importantly, this device echoes a size and weight comparable to an e-book reader. The bezel, which serves little purpose other than as a border, is large enough to make the iPod look like a glorified digital photo frame. A gamer grasping the edge of the device might have a hard time -- harder than with a much smaller iTouch -- manipulating their fingers or thumb over the multi-touch surface with the same hand or even their other hand. Developers will be faced with opportunities and challenges in making a game designed for a free hand while the other hand is grasping the device. Solutions that might come into play: creating a game with that relies heavily on the accelerometer, using the device itself as the controller for two-handed game play or using the e-book functionality for slower, turn-based games. Why not bring back games like Zork or King's Quest using touch-sensitive object-oriented game play coupled with the wise-cracking interactive fiction for the iPad?
Just as many consumers will take a wait-and-see approach, so will many game developers to see how the iPad will evolve. As the App Store took off, developers became more innovative to distinguish themselves from the ever-growing list of applications the iPhone could use, the same could happen with the iPad. Again, too, this is another situation where the software drives where the hardware is going. Perhaps that is why Apple is taking care to evolve where their iPhone OS-driven devices are going, so as not to ruffle the goose that keeps laying their golden eggs. Clearly, the iPad is an evolutionary device, not a revolutionary one, but with the faster processor and bigger screen it does at least createa bigger sandbox for game developers -- and consumers -- to play in.
People are waiting to help.