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iPhone 6 brings new but familiar challenges to devs

Fragmentation is creeping into the iOS ecosystem, but most mobile devs will still find it far easier to manage than Android

iPhone 6 is off to a stellar start with over 10 million sold in the opening weekend alone. "Bendgate" controversy aside, the two new models of iPhone offer better processing power and integrate Apple's new Metal architecture, which some developers believe offer vastly improved graphical rendering abilities. Make no mistake, these new phones will attract mobile gamers and devs in droves. It's notable, however, that this is the first time that Apple has introduced two new phones with different screen sizes and resolutions.

Should devs worry about increasing fragmentation from Apple? How do they have to alter their approach to support both new phones? polled a number of mobile devs, and while the introduction of two new phones may cause some minor headaches, the general consensus is it's still a cakewalk compared to the horrible state of fragmentation encountered on Android, which has thousands of different handsets with different screen sizes, resolutions and operating systems.

"iOS is still one of the least fragmented spaces for games...there are still just a handful of hardware configurations, and adoption for new versions of iOS as they have been released has always been phenomenal," noted Steve Coallier, senior director of development at Tilting Point, and EA veteran.

"The issue that becomes more and more poignant as time goes on is that the download size has to increase to accommodate the new handsets--but older iPhones don't have much physical memory"

Don Synstelien, Extrafeet

Many developers also anticipated the release of the new phones months in advance, so they weren't taken aback by Apple's announcements. "We have been preparing for this new generation of phones to come out and are working to ensure we support multiple generations of iPhones including the latest and greatest out for the market. From a development and technology perspective, we are very excited to explore better quality graphics through Metal, take advantage of new larger screen sizes, and focus on the devices' faster processing speeds," commented Gree COO Andrew Sheppard.

As with development on any platform, not just mobile, tools are key. Sheppard pointed to Gree's own tools that help it deal with fragmentation across iOS and Android, while Turbo CEO and founder Yohei Ishii noted that Unity is also enormously helpful.

Spotcos co-founder Shiny Yang agreed: "Anyone developing with best practices (or on Android) shouldn't have too much trouble with the new screen sizes. If somehow you've been stuck in the early 2010s and hardcoding screen sizes (960x640?), you've probably already been bitten by BOTH the not-so-recent switch to retina (see: points vs pixels) AND the slightly taller dimensions of the iPhone 5 (0.33 more inches)... anyone using an up-to-date game engine (or anything Unity) shouldn't have any trouble."

It also helps that Apple has done its best to facilitate scaling graphics on its own devices. "The best part about making games for the Apple App Store is that Apple has done a tremendous job of automatic resolution update using Xcode where it automatically scales the app up or down based on the device," said Manish Agarwal, CEO of Reliance Digital Entertainment. "This gives us the opportunity to build using Xcode and as the platforms and products have evolved from Apple, we are able to give our users on devices such as iPhone 6 Plus an enhanced user experience."

Bunnies' Empire creator Dominic Hamelin-Blais points out that anyone already supporting a retina iPad display won't have to worry about any extra effort to support both new iPhones. "You don't even have to produce higher res art since the iPad still has the highest resolution on iOS," he said.

But what about older iPhones and iPads? How far back can developers go in supporting previous generations of iOS products while making games for the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus? A number of the devs we polled go back as far as the iPhone 3GS, although some believe support for the 3GS and even iPhone 4 will soon be dwindling.

The problem with supporting older devices is that games for newer models are getting more sophisticated and the file sizes are automatically increasing.

"we're stoked about exploring new emergent usage patterns from having the additional screen real estate"

Yohei Ishii, Turbo

Extrafeet CEO Don Synstelien remarked, "The issue that becomes more and more poignant as time goes on is that the download size has to increase to accommodate the new handsets--but older iPhones don't have much physical memory, so the code package someone downloads for a 3.5 inch iPhone 4S is the same code package someone downloads for the new 5.5 inch iPhone 6 Plus. This means that the next time we update our app, it will need to contain additional images for any additional resolutions we want to support; these will all need to be included in the same code package--making the download even larger for older phones, which are rapidly running out of storage space."

Any concerns over legacy support or fragmentation are easily outweighed by the excitement over the bigger screen sizes and beefier architecture the new phones offer, devs stated. Turbo's Ishii commented, "We're still keeping a lookout on market trends, but the classic adage, Bigger is Better, usually rings true... we're stoked about exploring new emergent usage patterns from having the additional screen real estate, i.e. more robust user interfaces, longer engagement, etc."

Paul Simon, executive producer at One Thumb Mobile, added, "The major benefit for us a games studio is that the new hardware gives us more scope to continue pushing the boundaries of what players can expect from a full-featured MMO on handheld devices. It'll be interesting to see what advantages Apple's new Metal technology can bring to Celtic Heroes once Unity supports it."

Ultimately, developers see the new iPhones as a genuine opportunity to show how good mobile games can be today. "We are really excited about the new screen sizes. It's a good thing for us as a developer, since it gives us more real estate to show our graphics and especially as we put a lot of focus on production values and polishing," said Saara Bergstrom of Next Games (which is making a Walking Dead game).

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James Brightman


James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.