iPhone 5: "disappointment" that'll sell millions
Forget your exaggerated sighs; this is Apple's finest gaming platform yet
Once upon a time, Apple was the company held up as a shining example of successful corporate secrecy. That time has passed; there wasn't a damn thing about the company's pronouncements at its iPhone 5 launch event that surprised anyone, with the entirely predictable result that People On The Internet, having gorged themselves on rumour sites and leaked photos for months, were disappointed not to be surprised.
Indeed, People On The Internet don't seem to like the iPhone 5 much. It's an evolutionary development, they say, with nothing exciting to offer. Apple has lost its mojo. Android, Windows Phone or even BlackBerry 10 (for the truly devoted faithful) are about to rise up and mop the floor with Cupertino's efforts. Any minute now. Just you wait.
"Both consumers and content creators live in an iOS dominated world. The oft-touted Android activation figures and handset sales are almost irrelevant"
Dear People On The Internet - you're utterly irrelevant, out of touch, and seemingly possessed of absolutely terrible memories to complement your weakened powers of deduction. Remember when you passed precisely the same judgment on the iPhone 4S? Remember when it then went on to become the fastest-selling and most profitable phone handset of all time? Remember that? Tell me, oh wise Internet People, what is it about your logic that's different this time around?
Of course, it's entirely plausible that Apple will eventually be overtaken as the most important handset (and tablet) manufacturer in the world, but that's not going to happen because a handful of extremely vocal tech types are disappointed by the firm's offerings. For that to happen, someone is going to have to do to Apple what Apple did to Nokia, Motorola and Blackberry five years ago; they're going to have to come up with something that's genuinely, eye-catchingly different and better to Apple's phones. Until then, Apple will continue to rule the roost - not in terms of overall installed base, because cheap and far from cheerful Android handsets are swarming into the low end of the market, but certainly in terms of profitability, and absolutely in terms of relevance to content creators.
That's not to say that Android hasn't become an important platform - it has, absolutely. Windows Phone 8 also has the potential to be an important platform, and is incredibly laudable for being an innovative and interesting mobile computing experience - especially in light of Android's rather shameless replication of iOS, WP8 proves that there's both room and necessity for innovation. Whether the stylish Lumia phones which are flagships for the OS can thrive in the market in spite of Nokia's weak launch and sales execution is another question entirely, but it would be good to see the platform become a solid competitor.
Regardless, though, we - meaning both consumers and content creators - live in an iOS dominated world. The oft-touted Android activation figures and handset sales are almost irrelevant, since they cover such a wide variety of devices - many of which are bargain basement handsets that are unlikely ever to be used to make purchases from any app store. All the Android devices in the world don't matter to a game creator if few people are using them to buy stuff - whereas Apple's effective cornering of most of the high end of the market, along with its deeply integrated App Store infrastructure, means its consumers tend to be big spenders.
"The new layout means that the unobscured screen real estate between the player's fingers has just grown significantly. That's meaningful for games in the sense of being a long-term solid improvement to the iOS gaming experience"
It's in that context that Apple's announcements must be considered. iPhone 5 will probably break the sales records of the 4S, and will certainly become the primary platform for consumers spending money on mobile games (paid, F2P or otherwise) in the coming year. For anything else to happen, either a competitor would need to have a markedly more fantastic device (which isn't the case, and the first person to post a comment trying to prove otherwise with a barrage of technical specifications gets a time-out on the naughty step to think about exactly how many consumers give a damn about mobile phone tech specs), or Apple would need to have dropped the ball dramatically with iPhone 5. They didn't. They delivered a device that's got a better, larger screen in a more popular form factor, a better camera, better battery life and support for next-gen mobile networks, not to mention being thinner and lighter. They may not have thrilled you deeply, but they didn't drop the ball by any means.
In fact, in the midst of all the sighs of exaggerated disappointment, there are a handful of things about the new device which are of potential interest to game developers (and gamers) and are worth discussing. The first is the new screen format, which retains backwards compatibility with existing applications but offers an interesting new layout, especially for landscape-mode games. Many such games rely on players holding the device like a joypad and obscuring the sides of the screen with their fingers to use virtual buttons; the extra couple of centimetres in the new layout means that the unobscured screen real estate between the player's fingers has just grown significantly. That's meaningful for games, not in a terribly thrilling way but in the sense of being a long-term solid improvement to the iOS gaming experience.
There's also the A6 processor, which is being touted to consumers simply as "much faster" (which is about as much as most consumers give a damn regarding tech specs) and which should enable a whole new range of high quality games. However, what was really interesting was the decision to launch a new range of iPod Touch devices (the under-appreciated string to the iOS bow, and a device range that does wonders for app and game sales) using the older A5 chip architecture. What that means, alongside the retention of the iPhone 4 and 4S models as lower-cost alternatives, is that developers can be assured of meaningful installed bases of both A5-based and A6-based devices, ensuring that both are targeted by new titles - and thus legacy systems aren't left behind. It's a clever, if obvious, move.
"Apple's continuing commitment to making major game titles into centrepieces of its hardware showcase events stands in stark contrast to other players in the phone market"
Note also that games were centre stage for Apple's announcement. We all know that after initial reticence from Steve Jobs, games have become a major part of Apple's strategy - not least because they're by far the best showcase for the technological advances being made by each generation of iPhone. However, the company's continuing commitment to making major game titles into centrepieces of its hardware showcase events stands in stark contrast to other players in the phone market. Of course, it's easy for Apple; it has a huge range of fine developers to choose from, all only too happy to get cracking on pre-release hardware and prepare something excellent for launch. Regardless, the firm's commitment to iOS as a gaming platform is undeniable, and should be extremely welcome.
For the most part, the disappointment voiced by People On The Internet is down to the fact that the iPhone 5 announcement was business as usual for Apple - and in this, at least, they're quite right. It was business as usual - it's just that the business in question is the most valuable and most profitable technology company, launching a solid new iteration of the world's most successful smartphone platform. How lucky we are, to be able to be so jaded as to find that yawn-worthy! Yet as game creators or publishers, the fact that Apple has delivered a solid product once again - and one which will be even better as a game platform than its predecessors - is definitely worthy of a smidgen of happiness. The iOS / App Store ecosystem remains unrivalled as a way for creators to create and distribute mobile games - and get paid for them. When considered in that light, those who are seemingly so keen for Apple to stumble would do well to think about exactly what it is that they're wishing for, and perhaps be quietly glad that this time, at least, it hasn't come to pass.