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iPhone 5 draws mixed reactions from developers

Mobile game makers weigh in on Apple's latest with varying degrees of enthusiasm

Apple yesterday unveiled the iPhone 5, confirming a handful of new features for the next iteration of the company's iconic mobile phone line. GamesIndustry International pinged an array of mobile game makers for their takes on the new hardware, and found reactions ranging from enthralled to unenthused.

Most of the love for the new iPhone 5 was focused, one way or another, on looks. Gavian Whishaw, CEO of Summer Camp Studios (Fart Cat), said, "The new screen sounds pretty exciting actually, and not just the size. There are some really beautiful apps out already so I'm looking forward to what developers do with the new resolution."

The hardware outputting images to that screen also received some praise from William Volk, CCO of PlayScreen (Crickler). "The performance of the A6 looks on a par with the Xbox 360," Volk said. "That means we can build AAA-level titles that meet hardcore gamer expectations. Even for simple social games, the display gives us room for some user-interface enhancements." Volk went on to predict ill fortune for systems like the 3DS and PlayStation Vita, saying the iPhone 5 and new iPod Touch may signal "the end of the dedicated handheld model."

Anil Dharni, senior vice president of studio operations for Gree (Monpla Smash), echoed Volk's view of a console-calibre mobile scene.

"Apple announced some really interesting updates - the faster processor, faster wireless speeds, and a larger retina display to name a few - all of which will contribute to the evolution of the next generation of games, bringing us closer to the reality of offering console-like gaming experiences on mobile devices," Dharni said.

"The performance of the A6 looks on a par with the Xbox 360... we can build AAA-level titles that meet hardcore gamer expectations."

William Volk, PlayScreen

That's not to say that AAA titles are about to become the iOS norm. Even if the hardware can technically handle such games, Kimberly Unger, CEO and founder of Bushi-go (Agiliste) expects only the biggest of development houses to actually take advantage of it.

"It's going to continue to push the stratification of the iOS marketplace because the indies (for the most part) are going to continue to build 2D puzzlers and action games," Unger said, "while the bigger pubs with the marketing budgets are going to dominate the paid market by delivering games that give the impression of 3D AAA titles."

While the iPhone 5's hardware accounted for many of the developers' first impressions, PopCap's Bejeweled franchise business director Giordano Contestabile was more smitten by the software Apple announced.

"What's really important is the way in which hardware and software work together, and in that sense the launch of iOS6 is equally exciting: in particular, deeper Facebook integration and an improved Game Center are features that will benefit game developers," Contestabile said.

Apple's tweaks to iOS also caught the eye of Clay Kellogg, chief revenue officer Chartboost, a DIY ad platform for mobile developers. "iOS 6 allows users to access the iTunes App Store without leaving an app or game, and to remove the need to sign in when downloading a free game," Kellogg said. "Both of these changes remove steps from the app discovery and purchasing process - removing one step to downloading free games and also allowing developers to cross promote their games or advertise others' games without asking the players to leave the game they are currently playing in order to download or purchase a new one. These may seem trivial, small changes, but in reality removing small steps in the game discovery process like these can make a world of difference with users and their purchasing decisions. "

Not everyone was effusive in their approval of Apple's latest effort. Ernest Woo, CEO and founder of Woo Games (ErnCon) offered some reserved appreciation for the iPhone 5's screen, processor power, and LTE support. "Although none of these features are game-changers, they allow the entire smartphone game industry to further refine and improve its offerings," Woo said.

"iPhone 5 is pretty much exactly what I expected... larger screen, more powerful processor. It's kind of old hat for a new iPhone to come out."

Tommy Refenes, Team Meat

Team Meat's Tommy Refenes, currently at work on a pair of iOS projects including Super Meat Boy: The Game, was similarly subdued in his response to the new hardware.

"iPhone 5 is pretty much exactly what I expected... larger screen, more powerful processor. It's kind of old hat for a new iPhone to come out. That isn't meant to be a negative statement, more a statement on technology moving quickly in the mobile market. A year ago, a quad-core processor in a phone was unheard of; now it's commonplace. I welcome the quick iterations of Apple products. People buy Apple stuff like it's crack so if people keep buying more powerful phones every year, we as game developers won't have to hear, 'But this other game runs on my iPhone 3G, how come your game won't run on my iPhone 3G?'"

Finally, Dirk Knemeyer, founder and chairman of app design shop Involution Studios, called it an "incremental improvement" with nothing that really wowed him.

"The impact of the iPhone 5 on mobile gaming should be relatively minimal," Knemeyer said. "Certainly there will be some cool new games specifically optimized for the new screen ratio and resolution, but in most cases it will just be a matter of scrambling to make our current projects run even better on the new hardware."

Reactions from around the mobile world are continuing to come in, and will be included below as we get them.

Dave Castelnuovo, Bolt Creative (Pocket God)

The design looks great, it's bigger yet thinner which I'm sure makes it feel really awesome when you hold it in your hand. It's going to cause people to spend more time with their phones than they already do. About the actual improvements, the larger screen is nice, I would rather have it be the same aspect ratio as the legacy iPhone. Wide screen is good for movies, but not the best for gaming or reading content. Other than the screen, the rest of the features are the last in a line of steady significant improvements on what was already there which is fine. This steady, yearly hardware update cycle is pushing mobile well beyond what the console industry is capable of doing. Once benchmarks for the iPhone 5 get published, I wouldn't be surprised if this device is equal or more capable than the PS Vita. Next year the Vita will be a snail.

Kyle Gabler, 2D Boy (World of Goo)

What? There's a new Apple Internet Phone? I'm sure it's OK. New phones are like new computers in the '90s. Each new release is slightly faster, slightly more megahertz inside, slightly less beige, and we'll look back on them 15 years from now with our brain implants and wonder how we ever functioned back then!

"New phones are like new computers in the '90s. Each new release is slightly faster, slightly more megahertz inside, slightly less beige..."

Kyle Gabler, 2D Boy

American McGee, CEO of Spicy Horse (Crazy Fairies)

Actually, I am on the road and bouncing between airports. Haven't had a chance to read about what's new so I have no opinion on the matter. But I will be getting one ASAP. What matters? They released a new one. Must have it! :)

David Edery, SpryFox (Triple Town)

We're excited about the iPhone 5, in part simply because it looks like a great device that will keep the iOS ecosystem humming along, generating lots of sales for game developers. Regarding the specific improvements, I don't see them having a huge impact on the kinds of games we generally like to develop, though I am personally excited about the improved camera and am thinking about ways that we could do something cool with that. Every improvement in phone camera tech increases the options available to us when considering potential camera-centric designs!

Chris DeWolfe, CEO of SGN (Fluff Friends Rescue)

The doubling of the processing and graphics capability is going to be quite significant as developers push the envelope of what is possible on a mobile device. Additionally, the larger screen will enable developers to create more interesting landscapes and increase the amount of content displayed at any one time.

Nick Earl, Senior Vice President and General Manager of EA's Mobile & Social Studios (The Sims FreePlay)

Mobile is the fastest growing segment of the interactive games business right now, and Apple is a major driver of that growth. We're very closely aligned with them; we're number one in terms of market share across Apple devices. Every new phone and tablet spells opportunity for us to extend our reach to people who never considered themselves gamers.

Chris Byatte, co-founder, Chillingo (Catapult King)

Chillingo is very excited about today's iPhone 5 and iOS 6 announcements. The new 1136x640 16:9 screen and A6 chipset further pushes the boundaries of game development and enhances players' experiences.

Ben Liu, COO of Pocket Gems (Tap Zoo)

We're really excited about the iphone 5 and iOS 6 announcement. As previous devices and OS releases have done, we think it will bring a whole new set of users into the market. The smartphone has the potential to be the greatest gaming device ever created and we think this announcement will help realize some of this potential. We're already thinking about ways to incorporate some of the graphics and game center capabilities to continue to innovate and create new types of gameplay.

The announcement today will accelerate the shift to deeper, richer game experiences that can be experienced with other players. It also means that mobile will continue to grow and take time and attention away from other game segments. It's a great time to be an app developer and an even better time to be a mobile game developer.

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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