I’m betting that a lot of you picking up Apple’s new iPad this Friday already count yourself console gamers. That is, you have a PlayStation 3 or an Xbox 360 or a Wii and actually use it. Maybe you have a Nintendo DS, or a 3DS, and even sprang for Sony’s handheld PlayStation Vita. But I’m also betting you’re eyeballing Apple’s new tablet and asking “Could I? Should I?”
I was thinking in this direction a year ago, wondering whether Apple’s iPad might not butt in on Nintendo and Microsoft and Sony’s turf. I’m no longer alone. According to Reuters, Electronic Arts honcho Frank Gibeau says “When the iPad gets to the processing power that’s equal to an Xbox 360 and it connects to a television, that’s no big deal to us,” adding that the company would simply “put the game through the iPad and have it display through the television.” And Mike Capps, president of Epic Games (Gears of War, Infinity Blade), believes “It is quite easy to imagine a world where an iPad is more powerful than a home console, where it wirelessly talks to your TV and wirelessly talks to your controller and becomes your new console.”
So are we there yet? I’d say just about, and I’ll give you six reasons (plus a seventh with contingencies) why.
It’s powerful enough. The iPad 2 was already powerful enough — not as powerful as the Xbox 360 or PS3, granted, but capable of churning out high-definition visuals sophisticated enough to win over all but the pickiest enthusiasts game developers seem to care increasingly less about. Apple says the new iPad’s A5X processor “drives four times the pixels of iPad 2 yet it delivers the same smoothness and fluidity iPad is known for.” We’ll have to see, of course, but if what Apple’s saying pans out, we’re probably talking at least Call of Duty series graphics at higher-than-HD resolution.
Speaking of, the new iPad one-ups the PS3 and Xbox 360 in onscreen pixels. The PS3 and Xbox 360 can do up to 1080p, or 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution — the apex of high definition TV-based gaming today. What’s more (or less), most Xbox 360 and PS3 games are actually 720p, or 1280 x 720 pixels, and even with solid upscaling, you’re getting subpar 1080p output on a 1080p set. The new iPad’s native resolution by contrast is 2048 x 1536 pixels, dramatically higher-end than either Microsoft or Sony’s rarely employed maximum. It remains to be seen how well Apple games will run at 2048 x 1536 (or if developers will play the upscaling game to preserve fluidity), but the detail levels in new iPad games have the potential to be groundbreaking.
Hello instant, massive, multi-demographic games library. Sure, anytime you have three-quarters of a million apps, aka “library sprawl,” you wind up with tons of junk (as sci-fi writer Theodore Sturgeon liked to say, “ninety percent of everything is crap”). But the rate of new game arrival on the iPad is unmatched in the console biz (where the 90% crap maxim still applies), and while early casual-angled iPad games still rule the roost, we’re starting to see serious console-style contenders, e.g. Dead Space, Rage HD, Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies and Infinity Blade 2. How long until we’re seeing stuff like Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed make the leap (not as tie-ins, but as true console equivalents)? Not long at all, I’m betting.
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iOS games cost peanuts next to console game prices. Most iPad games run under $10, and stuff like Angry Birds Seasons or Plants vs. Zombies is just $2-$3. No, I don’t expect EA/Bioware to sell Mass Effect 3 for $10, or Ubisoft to do the same for a game like Assassin’s Creed 3, but when games like that finally arrive on the iPad, the chances are excellent they won’t cost six times the going App Store tablet rate.
You can take it with you. You can take a console anywhere, too, but it’s a kludgy cable-and-gamepad affair, not to mention your need for a display wherever you land, which may or may not be calibrated to your visual tastes. That, and you can keep playing the iPad en route to wherever you’re off to (assuming you’re not the designated driver, of course).
It’s a lot more than just a game console. The PS3 and Xbox 360 can do more than just play games, e.g. play music, stream videos, browse software stores and chat with friends. But the iPad can do all of that and tons more…you know, like actually replace your computer, if you’re intrepid enough (and not tethered to specific Windows or OS X apps).
It’ll eventually stream video wireless to your TV and support gamepads. The only reason the new iPad won’t immediately supplant your set-top Xbox, PlayStation or Wii is that it lacks a simple wireless-TV link and gamepad option. If Apple wants in on that action, and I’d almost bet my life they do, they’ll have to make it so, ideally with a gamepad of their own design that does for gamepads what the iPad did for PCs in general. And I’m betting that’s just a matter of when, not if.