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iPad Mini: Developers unfazed by pricing look towards tablet dominance

Dev community encouraged by new hardware and continued evolution of tablet tech

Apple's big event yesterday introduced new versions of the MacBook Pro, the Mac Mini, and the iMac, but for the game industry the big news was the changes to the iPad line.

Apple CEO Tim Cook informed us that total iPad sales recently hit 100 million units. That's in only two and a half years, but Apple is not resting on its success. The company has updated the iPad with new processing power (promising double to CPU and GPU power), and introduced the iPad Mini, which has the capabilities of the iPad 2 in a smaller, lighter package.

GamesIndustry International spoke with a variety of game app developers and analysts to see what they thought of Apple's new iPad Mini and the updated iPad. Will the iPad Mini be an effective competitor to 7" Android tablets that start at under $200, even though the iPad Mini starts at $329? With the A5 chip powering it, how will the iPad Mini be as a game playing device? Will the added power of the 4th gen iPad (2x CPU, 2X GPU) make a difference in game development decisions?

"Whenever Apple jumps into a category it increases awareness of the devices and creates a rising tide that will float all boats"

Doug Scott, DeNA

Gabriel Leydon, CEO of Machine Zone, called the iPad Mini "the best wireless tablet device in the market," adding that "the iPad Mini will be a fantastic gaming device. This super-fast LTE connection and larger than iPhone screen will lead to the creation of some amazing online tablet games."

Leydon feels that the price of the iPad Mini won't hold it back, either. "The iPad Mini will be a huge success. While $329 may seem expensive, the iOS ecosystem is the best in the mobile market." Leydon is excited about the extra horsepower of the updated iPad. "This will allow all developers to really push on the graphics side of game development. We expect the industry to push the limits of tablet gaming graphics in 2013," he noted.

Doug Scott, VP of Marketing and Revenue at at DeNA's U.S. subsidiary ngmoco, was similarly enthused about the potential of the iPad Mini. "We love it when Apple brings a new device to the market," Scott said. "The iPad Mini will benefit the entire mini tablet category; whenever Apple jumps into a category it increases awareness of the devices for consumers and creates a rising tide that will float all boats."

Greg Harper at Supercell, general manager for North America, feels the price is no barrier to sales. "Even at a $329 price point, the iPad Mini should really shake things up in the mini tablet market," Harper said. "The comparisons in the presentation today made it pretty clear that the Mini delivers a superior overall experience. I think most people will pay a little extra for that additional value. It feels like it's going to be tough for those other guys to compete with the Mini in this segment of the market."

Chris Ulm, CEO of Appy Entertainment, was impressed with the new hardware. "I think the new iPad Mini will be a massive success - we've been anticipating it for a long time," Ulm said. "I think the screen dimensions are wisely chosen - and as developers, we love the fact that our iPad games look and run beautifully without any effort on our part. The thinner screen, reduced weight, 10 hour battery life and one-handed operation will make this the standard education machine and will, in our view, ultimately be the most important tablet for game players. It also fits neatly in a handbag."

"Our only disappointment with the iPad Mini is its $329 entry price"

Chris Ulm, Appy Entertainment

But Ulm was not as happy about Apple's decision on pricing. "Our only disappointment with the iPad Mini is its $329 entry price. We would have preferred an 8GB model at $249 or even $199 to really be price competitive with the Nexus and Kindle tablets." It's not a deal-breaker, though, Ulm feels. "Apple will do fine - they will sell tons at $329, but we think they missed an opportunity to own the small tablet market. As iOS-centric game developers, we would prefer that Apple sells the next hundred million iPads in half the time"

Dave Castelnuovo, co-founder of Bolt Creative, feels that the price of the iPad Mini has some key advantages. "It will be a factor on two fronts," Castelnuovo explained. "The first is among people who already own an iPad. They would never be caught dead with an Android tablet, and will probably buy the iPad Mini for their kids or spouse. The second group is people that don't own an iPad because it's too expensive. This product is geared toward them. Android tablets have sold well, but haven't built up a market that can compare to the iPad despite their lower price. I don't think they will give Apple a lot of competition."

Castelnuovo feels that Apple is preparing a surprise for next year. "The nail in the coffin of Android tablets will come next year when Apple updates the iPad Mini design. At that point they will likely offer this current version of the iPad mini at a $100 discount. Then you will have a choice between a plastic piece of garbage for $200 that plays up-scaled phone apps, and a extremely well-built device with one of the most beautiful screens available for $229."

"You will have a choice between a plastic piece of garbage for $200 that plays up-scaled phone apps, and a extremely well-built device with one of the most beautiful screens available for $229"

Dave Castelnuovo, Bolt Creative

The A5 chip in the iPad Mini won't hold back games, Castelnuovo feels. "The A5 is still a great chip," he said. "There are not many games that fully max out what an iPad 2 can do. We are still targeting less than an iPad 1 as our min bench mark so the A5 should have plenty of life left."

The added power of the 4th gen iPad won't affect Bolt Creative's games."We need to be as compatible as possible across all Apple devices in the ecosystem," Castelnuovo said. "I think the only developers that will be taking advantage of the new specs are those who create 3D games, where they can just enable extra lighting, bump maps, pixel shaders, etc."

Marco DeMiroz, CEO of PlayFirst shrugs off the $329 price of the iPad Mini. "Apple has clearly demonstrated that the iPad platform's success driven by its total value to the consumers and we have seen no evidence of price sensitivity to iPad adoption." DeMiroz sees the iPad Mini games as being the same as current iPad games, the extra horsepower of the updated iPad won't be factor for their development.

Louis-Rene Auclair, chief brand officer at Hibernum Creations, is excited about this new product launch. "The new pricing will make iOS devices more affordable for the mass market and this means more players will be able to enjoy our games," Auclair said. "Although pricing is one of the major blockers in that category, Apple does have the marketing and distribution power to gain an advantage. Apple has shown time and time again that it can dominate a market space with great hardware, software and distribution models." Auclair is looking forward to the continued evolution of the iPad. "The next big step will be a GPU that supports 3D, as the processor is essentially equivalent to that of an Xbox 360," Auclair noted.

Jesse Divnich, VP of Insights & Analysis at EEDAR, had some different concerns about the iPad Mini and the updated iPad. "iPad 4 is a natural evolution of Apple's iPad line-up. I don't think the specs were surprising," Divnich said. "From a gaming perspective, we do have concerns that we are beginning to see a dichotomy in the technical specifications of tablets.

Much like PCs and laptops, there exists a low-end and high-end market. This fragmentation is a nightmare for developers, especially independent developers who do not have access to the same amount of resources for quality assurance." Divnich continued, "All consumer goods verticals have low-end and high-end products. But it is certainly a fragmentation that isn't favorable for independent developers."

"You're seeing yet another nail be hammered into handheld consoles' - I don't want to say coffin - but certainly the box they've gotten themselves walled into"

Scott Steinberg, TechSavvy Global

Scott Steinberg, CEO of TechSavvy Global, feels Apple has a winner on its hands despite the pricing.

"Obviously it's priced much higher than analysts expected and we would have like to have seen. Screenwise it's in the same range as the Kindle Fire and the Nook HD and other devices that are priced considerably lower. At the same time, Apple has such a commanding equity and leverage with regards to the market, consumers are going to be willing to pay a premium for the device," Steinberg said. "You can't underestimate the power that half a million apps holds. I don't think the iPad Mini is going to be a game-changer, but it continues to put more Apple devices into player's hands and it expands the marketplace. It helps reinforce Apple's commanding lead."

Steinberg feels the increased power of the iPad is going to be a factor in game development. "Game developers who can will take advantage of the new processing power and graphics capabilities available to them," Steinberg said. "The quality of games that are available on iOS devices is steadily increasing and expanding, becoming increasingly comparable to what you would see from a traditional dedicated handheld gaming device."

Speaking of handheld gaming consoles, will the iPad Mini put more pressure on handheld gaming consoles, with its price point at $329 and the new iPod Touch starting at $199 ($299 for the 5th generation)? Steinberg doesn't mince words: "You put tens of thousands of premium quality software selections plus multimedia capability in customer's hands, and you make it all incredibly convenient to access or stream on demand either for free or for a fraction of typical retail prices, then you're seeing yet another nail be hammered into handheld consoles' - I don't want to say coffin - but certainly the box they've gotten themselves walled into."

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Steve Peterson

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Steve Peterson has been in the game business for 30 years now as a designer (co-designer of the Champions RPG among others), a marketer (for various software companies) and a lecturer. Follow him on Twitter @20thLevel.