XMG: Apple's incremental iPhone updates becoming a 'concern'

But iPhone 5 to enjoy record opening weekend

XMG: Apple's incremental iPhone updates becoming a 'concern'
It's hard to fathom a solid thread when it comes to the reaction of iOS developers to iPhone 5.

Canadian outfit XMG Studio, however, has probably offered the most comprehensive assessment of Apple's new handset to date.

According to president and founder Ray Sharma, iPhone 5 will appeal to millions of consumers the world over, despite not offering the kind of upgrades many will have been expecting.

We tackled Sharma to find out why iPhone 6 may need to offer more than the cautious, conservative update Apple's latest device has delivered.

Pocket Gamer: Broadly speaking, what did you make of Apple's iPhone 5 unveiling?

Ray Sharma: Nothing surprising.

Rumours were correct that Apple was moving to a different aspect ratio. The slightly faster processor and graphics power will continue to draw attention from bigger AAA studios looking to make their mark on the mobile world.

But truly the best thing Apple announced today for indie developers was that the iPhone 4 – which is now free with contract – and iPhone 4S have received tempting price cuts. This will shift the low end of the market to the very respectable iPhone 4.

The real improvements are in iOS 6.0 which we have already seen for some weeks now.

Specifically from a developer's point of view, what features excite you the most about the new iPhone?

Let's look at it from two broad perspectives of hardware versus software.

The new resolution of 1136 x 640 for the iPhone 5 is huge, though a bit of a double-edged sword from a developer's perspective.

The extra 176 pixels gives us lots of extra space to play with but the new aspect ratio means we have to design our games for yet another screen dimension.

From a pure engineering perspective its quite impressive to make incremental component improvements in screen density, camera resolution, processor speed, etc while shrinking the packaging.

The more significant changes are in the operating system and software layer. For example, no password required for a free app is small but will literally lift freemium to another level.

By far the most significant improvement for indie devs is the new App Store. There are several small improvements such as putting the screen shots up front which will really help a gamer quickly see what the game is all about.

The most important change to the App Store though is in discoverability. This is strategic in a world where indie devs are struggling to match the marketing budgets of the larger players willing to spend insane money to acquire users. Indie devs will also like, that users can easily find and access other games from the same developer.

Another improvement is the "new" banner that shows up on newly downloaded apps.

It's cool because sometimes users hit install on their phone and move on to other tasks while it downloads. With the 'new' banner they don't run the risk of forgetting about their new app.

The version history will show a user that this game gets frequent updates and lots of love and attention from the developer.

These are just the most significant improvements but there are many more small developments that together add up to a significantly improved App Store.

Is there anything missing from the device?

We are wary about the battery life performance of the device given the improved engineering in a smaller package.

Wireless charging was a great feature unveiled by Nokia with the Lumia 920 and is something we would like to see in all smartphones.

There were also a bunch of rumoured features like NFC that were not included, but from a indie dev perspective the biggest opportunity we see still missing is improved haptics, or force feedback technology.

The reason this is important to game devs is that the device has big potential to improve in the 'feel' engagement of the device. Touchscreens and haptics fit together nicely and we still have plenty of room for improvement.

Our only complaint is that the improvements in hardware are incremental versus seeing a device with truly new capabilities. We are also approaching diminishing returns in making these devices thinner.

How thin can devices get before it starts becoming tough to properly keep a grip on the phone in the middle of a heated gaming session?

What kind of impact do you think it will have on the market. Is this a guaranteed best seller?

In our opinion the best device ever unveiled is the original iPhone 4.

Without question that device was the most beautiful industrial design ever created for a smartphone. The iPhone 5 does not have the same eye candy improvement as we saw from the 3GS to the iPhone 4.

When you want one device to rule them all, it is important to be far superior to the competition. The dependence on a single new product means that it truly has to be heads and shoulders above the competition.

Consumers and fans of Apple were sufficiently impressed by Siri to be forgiving that there was very little incremental improvement other than 'faster this-and-that.' Our concern is that the iPhone 5 is now the second incrementally better hardware generation for a company that releases one phone per year.

The specific concerns is that a window of opportunity has opened for Microsoft to play catch up and for Android to push the innovation envelope due to the sheer number of device launches and hardware competition within the Android hardware community.

The iPhone 5 will definitely set sales records. This is a function of a increasingly larger installed base and the upgrade cycle phenomena - it's a near certainty that this will be the best opening weekend for any new device in history.
Thanks to Ray 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.