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New iPhones "on par with next-generation consoles" - Gibeau

EA Mobile head weighs in potential of Apple's latest, already has people prototyping for Watch

Frank Gibeau and his team at EA Mobile spent their Tuesday like a lot of other tech enthusiasts: Grumbling about the quality of Apple's stream of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch reveal.

The group gathered en masse in a conference room, as it does with every Apple reveal, to watch a broadcast that faded in and out (and occasionally came through in Chinese). But while the rest of us were gnashing our teeth in frustration, the mobile teams were already riffing on ideas about what they could do with the technology being introduced.

"It was a good Christmas morning," said Gibeau after the conference had wrapped up. "We got a lot of the gifts we asked for. One key takeaway is that with the retina display and the improved processor, combined with the Metal [graphics] capabilities and 128 GB of memory, that gets you to a device that's on part with next-generation consoles. That's moving perfectly into our strike zone."

EA Mobile works on a lot more than just smartphones and tablets, though. It's one of the hives of the company's research efforts in wearable technology - including the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear VR. Earlier this week, Gibeau, the executive vice president of EA Mobile, noted that two internal teams are already prototyping experiences for the Apple Watch (and further mentioned to GamesIndustry.biz that the total number of people is around half a dozen). But the overall focus is much wider.

"We got real excited about Apple Watch," he says. "Wearables could be the future gaming platforms. Look at Oculus, Google Glass, Apple Watch, Samsung's announcement last week. There are unique functions and ways to interact with these devices that open up a new platform."

Among the ideas Gibeau mentioned specifically for Apple Watch were scenarios where they could interact with EA Sports mobile games. (For instance, if you run four miles, that could unlock a feature in a sports game.)

"Some ideas are going to work, some aren't," he admits. "I see it as a potentially very viable platform. ... But we just found out about the watch in a material way, so we have to have time before we gravitate toward one idea or the other."

While EA Mobile is also looking at Samsung's VR headset, Gibeau didn't have much to say about that platform in general, but did note that the company considers VR as part of the wearable market. That, however, does not necessarily mean that his team will be leading the charge for experiences like the Oculus Rift. ("We're not at an application commitment level yet," he demurs.)

Gibeau's claim that mobile gaming is becoming on par with next-generation consoles is likely to stir some debate - and a lot of doubters. And he clarifies that that's certainly not the case with every mobile device.

"In some combination of devices, we're kind of there," he says. "On others, it's a little hard. The thing about mobile is there are 60,000 flavors of handsets each year. Some are extraordinarily high performance - and given that you're looking at a small screen that's right in front of you, pound for pound, it's right there."

As proof, he points to a mobile prototype of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, which runs on mobile devices using Frostbite - and says he expects playable products using the company's premiere graphics engine "soon".

Also, he says, the constant iteration of the technology each year lets mobile continually close any gaps between the two technologies. That's why EA has put such a strong focus on mobile in recent years. Gibeau moved over from running the company's console game unit to mobile a little shy of a year ago. Mobile, Gibeau says, is in many ways the future of EA.

"If you look at the market... mobile has a strong growth path in front of it," he says. "Then you've got wearables on top of that. At EA, we look at it as an especially powerful strategic path for us. ... We've been a premium business - and we've been changing the company from the ground up to become a services business. We have an optimistic and profoundly bright view of the future because of this platform expansion in mobile."

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Chris Morris

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Chris Morris has covered the video game industry since 1996, offering analysis of news and trends and breaking several major stories. He was the author of CNNMoney’s 'Game Over' and has also written for Yahoo!, Variety, CNBC.com, Forbes.com and other publications.

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