New iPad's A5X chip isn't powerful enough for high-end 3D graphics, claims developer

Needs nextgen PowerVR 6 GPU

New iPad's A5X chip isn't powerful enough for high-end 3D graphics, claims developer
Record sales suggest that in terms of consumer appeal, Apple's latest iPad has got off to a very impressive start.

But one highly regarded developer has told PocketGamer.biz the tablet simply doesn't live up to its billing.

In an email detailing the studio's early impressions, the developer – which wishes to remain anonymous; we'll call it developer A - suggested the new iPad isn't powerful enough to cope with very high-end graphics.

Power problem

"While the Retina display is really stunning and no other gaming platform can match it in terms of crisp visuals, it is a pity that the new iPad is not powered by the PowerVR series 6," said developer A, which specialises in graphically complex titles.

"With the current GPU, the framerate drops significantly when a lot of geometry using sophisticated shaders is to be filled."

This point goes back to the surprise decision from Apple to use an uprated A5 chip - the A5X - to power the new iPad, when it had been assumed an new architecture - A6 - would be required to run the high resolution screen. 

Rate it down

"This is true for pretty much any of the high-end 3D games currently available for the new iPad and users are giving devs plenty of one-star ratings," developer A goes on to say. 

"Devs are in a dilemma situation now as they either have to go back to standard resolution or keep supporting Retina to be featured by Apple while facing unhappy customers and poor ratings."

The point is that a poor user experience in terms of framerate sees players blaming the game developer and giving one-star iTunes reviews, not blaming the limitations of the hardware.

Raised expectations

Of course, this is just one view. But such was the strength of feeling in the account that PocketGamer.biz carried out a wider anonymous sweep of other developers.

While some agreed that, ultimately, a beefier GPU would do the tablet no harm, they were less willing to suggest the current set up is causing major problems.

"It [new iPad] does seem to have some issues with fill rate and blended shaders, but geometry seems fine," developer B countered.

"It is almost the same as when we went from 3GS to iPhone 4 - [it] feels like the exact same situation.

"I have a feeling it can really be pushed harder than people think. it just requires a bit more testing. If your game isn't using lots of transparency or blending effects, then it should really run great."

Developer C added that its games were "highly optimised", and that it hadn't experienced any problems with the GPU to-date.

"I think that people are expecting too much from iPad, but it's still only tablet and not Xbox," it added.

"In my honest opinion, you cannot use complex geometry and shaders like on Xbox 360 or PS3 on any mobile or tablet still. It will take few years."

Start your engines

According to developer D, it's not the iPad itself that's the problem, but rather the engines running on it.

In short, middleware companies need more time "to catch up"; although we should point out that developer A uses its own tech.

"Neither Unity or Unreal have proper updates yet to support the third generation iPad, so we are using some trickery and doing what we can to make sure the games run smooth and look great on it," developer D added.

"We released a Retina update for one of our games, but did so thanks to a trick from the last version of Unity.

"We set it to native resolution - using the latest version of Xcode with Lion - and miraculously it just 'worked'. We're now rolling out new Retina updates for our other games."

If you'd like to detail your experiences working with the latest iPad, drop us a line at keith [dot] andrew [at] pocketgamer (.) co (.) uk

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.


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Andrei Hanganu
If we compare all the iOS family the new iPad is the fastest one available for now. It's true, having more pixels is a technical difficulty but it kinda gets down to what you intend to do with them. You can use native resolution or you can compromise it. Also you can ensure your application to fit the device specs and requirements like a glove and should have no problems.

At this moment high-end 3D graphics has a very unclear definition. If you take the consoles into account, it means something, if you think of PCs it means a whole new set of numbers. If you just consider tablets this is as high end 3D graphics as it can get. We are not yet at the level of multi million budget titles that some console titles get but the gap between screenshots gets smaller and smaller. From what I can tell there are games looking better on 3rd iPad then on XBOX. PS3 is a very hard kitchen to work in, and they are probably suffering even more then Apple about not having content fully optimized for the platform.

Another point, is that games not specifically designed for the new iPad are using resources for iPad2 at best, this means that if everything would have been properly done we should have seen an improvement in performance, not a drop. Right now I believe the blame of poor performance stands mostly with developers and less with hardware designers. It's easy to say "give us the 6 series", and it's hard to work and make the game run great on a specific device.

This is the way you will differentiate great value products and developers, it takes time, patience and great talent to have a great game run at a great performance.
Jay Filmer
I guess I'll just slum it with my iPad 1 a bit longer and wait for iPad 4.
Kristan Reed Consultant at Hit Detection
Have there been any notable examples of poorly optimised retina-capable games released as yet?
Tom Worthington
It's still early days for the new iPad. It'll be interesting to see how quickly Apple irons out these issues and how soon some killer apps that really showcase its capabilities start to surface.
I suppose that's true to a degree, it just felt to me like there's more niggles with this latest device, but maybe that's just because it's the newest.
James Nouch
As Keith says, games developed specifically for the new iPad will surely offer the clearest picture of its capabilities. Ramping up the resolution of existing assets was bound to be a struggle if the title was already pushing the hardware on iPad 2.
Dan Griliopoulos
@Chris It's always been like this; think of the leap from iPhone 4 to 4Gs, removing that irritating signal issue.
Hmm, when you put this together with a few of the other reported issues (screen returns, overheating, the inability to recharge whilst playing certain games), it does look like a small crack developing in Apple product quality. Not enough to shake the halo just yet, but it will surely sharpen attention on the iPhone 5 and iPanel?
Keith Andrew
It's going to take some time before the picture becomes clear. Will need devs to develop stuff specifically for the latest iPad before we know for sure.
Perhaps what's equally interesting is the different attitudes of developers to how much you want to through at the processor in terms of console-style games
jon jordan
It's a good point, but I guess the issue is should it have included a Retina screen this time, if the hardware wasn't up to it?

ie will people buy an iPad 2 and wait for a iPad 4, which is what I'm now considering.
If apple puts everything in this ipad, what will they offer next year?