Interview

I'd rather iPad 3 didn't exist, says Zee-3 co-founder Ste Pickford

I'd rather iPad 3 didn't exist, says Zee-3 co-founder Ste Pickford
As soon as iPhone 4S hit the shelves, the attention of Apple enthusiasts naturally turned to the company's next big reveal: iPad 3.

But while consumers may be lusting over the prospect of a high-spec upgrade, complete with crisper resolution and a beefier processor, Zee-3 co-founder Ste Pickford would rather the only new addition to iPad 3 was the number at the end of its name.

We pinned down Ste to ask why a fear of fragmentation is underpinning all this thoughts on Apple's next device.

Pocket Gamer: From a developer's perspective, what's the least you're expecting from iPad 3?

Ste Pickford: I think right now the only thing I'd like from an iPad 3 is either for it not to exist, or for it to have the fewest new features possible!

When we started developing Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint for mobile, we had a choice of developing for either iOS, or Android. As a tiny two-man team we didn't feel we had the resources to develop for both.

iOS was clearly more attractive, although Android was growing fast and had less competition in the games market, so there was an good argument for going for Android instead.

The thing that really swung it in iOS's favour was the lack for fragmentation.

With Android there are so many different devices and resolutions and processor speeds to support it becomes a bit of a nightmare for small devs.

You need several target hardware devices, and need to either go for a lowest common denominator - thus not making full use of the features of the newest devices - or essentially write lots of versions of the game with support for all the different features and capabilities of each different device or OS configuration.

That's what mobile game development used to be like before the smartphone resolution - studios with thousands of different devices to test on, and a massive chunk of time checking that games worked on every different one.

The iPhone caused a revolution in mobile gaming because it was one single platform, closer to a games console, so developers could spend their time and effort making their game for a single machine.

It's the 'single device' concept that made it possible for micro teams like us, and thousands of others, to make games for iOS, as we didn't need to worry about supporting dozens of target platforms.

Every new iPhone or iPad upgrade is making the situation for iOS developers a little bit worse. 

So, every new feature means more fragmentation of iOS, and more hassle for devs who need to support different features and devices.  

What's best for game developers is a single, fixed, known hardware platform, that we can be sure will be around for a while without chopping and changing.

If you were making the decisions, what's the one wildcard feature you'd include?

Can I pick a feature I'd like not to include? I'm hoping against hope that they aren't going to double the screen resolution with an iPad retina screen.

I guess I'll be out of luck, as it looks like the increase is screen resolution is a certainty, but it's going to be a pain in the bum for many game devs.

Mobile games are typically 2D bitmap or sprite-based, which is great for devs and gamers as 2D games were pretty much wiped out by modern game consoles where manufacturers and publishers more or less insist on full 3D to help justify the high price of console games.

2D games have always been popular with gamers, but the audience hasn't always been well served by publishers in recent years, so iOS has seen a bit of a resurgence of great 2D sprite based games.

Doubling the resolution of the iPad 3 means increasing the size of bitmap sprites by four to make full use of that resolution, as well as still supporting the regular iPad and iPhone retina resolution, and the iPhone 3G and 3GS resolution.

This will significantly increase the memory size of bitmap-based games, and will make universal apps harder to make if devs want to stay below the 20MB limit for downloading apps over 3G for iPhones.

Rather than adding features to the hardware, I'd much rather Apple worked on improvements to the App Store.

It needs to improve visibility and discovery for the many great apps that aren't in the top 10, and to avoid the problem of the charts being permanently blocked by a small number of apps that have been there forever - due to the feedback loop of sales mainly being generated by being at the top of the sales chart.

The latest suggestion is iPad 3 will come with an 'A5X' chip, rather than A6. Given we know nothing about either, is this likely to make any practical difference?

I'm not that familiar with the exact specs of the graphics chips, but past history would suggest that Apple tend to up the resolution with one generation, then up the processor speeds to cope the generation after.

The iPhone 4 was a bit underpowered for its screen size, but 4S is great. The original iPad was a bit underpowered for its screen size, but iPad 2 is great.

If iPad 3 doubles the resolution again - meaning four times the number of pixels on screen that need to be shifted - I fully expect it to be a bit underpowered until the iPad 4 comes along and has enough grunt to move all those pixels around at a decent enough speed.

Where do you think iPad 3's competition is likely to come from?

There still doesn't seem to be any real competition for the iPad. None of the potential competitors in the tablet computing world seem to be able to get their act together and beat the iPad in it's one area of weakness – price.

People who can't afford iPads seem like a potential market to me, but most of the competing products are at a similar or higher price than the iPad, but without the App Store ecosystem, which makes them instant failures.

The Kindle Fire is perhaps the only potential competitor on the horizon.

What do you think iPad 3 will do for games on the App Store, and mobile gaming in general?

As far as I can tell the iPad 3 won't really do anything good for gaming, other than bringing in more customers by keeping iPads selling - which is arguably the most important thing.

An increase in screen resolution is largely unnecessary for gaming. It might make fonts look a bit nicer for text-based apps, and might be a tickbox for full HD video support, but let's face it, games already look great on the iPad 2. 

Screen resolution is not a problem at all for iOS games, but fillrate and framerate and loading times are sometimes a bit of an issue.

Doubling the screen resolution will almost certainly lead to lower framerates and increased loading times for games, longer download times and make universal apps harder to support, leading to more apps being split into separate iPhone and iPad versions, all of which is bad for gaming.
Thanks to Ste for his time.

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

Comments

No comments
View options
  • Order by latest to oldest
  • Order by oldest to latest
  • Show all replies