IMHO – Apple needs to up its game

Ever more powerful smartphones are making console-quality mobile games viable – but Apple's lack of hardware support is hobbling the iPhone

Like it or not, Angry Birds is the most successful game of all time. Nearly twice as many people own an Angry Birds game than a Mario game. And it owes that to Apple, or more specifically to the iPhone and iPad.

But Apple’s not the only show in town any more. Once, it had the best hardware and the best gaming apps. Now it’s staring a glut of quad-core smartphone rigs in the face and looking a bit shaky in its aluminium and glass boots.

If the future of handheld gaming lies with smartphones (and you’d be a fool not to think so), Apple needs to up its game. Console quality graphics are coming to our pockets and phone games have gone beyond the one-trick ponies of old (Paper Toss, anyone?).

In fact, the future of phone gaming can be glimpsed in the likes of Uncharted: Golden Abyss for the PlayStation Vita, which makes Grand Theft Auto III on iOS and Android look like Snake II.

For dedicated gamers, the touchscreen is a barrier. That’s being addressed both in software – look at the clever integration of swipe controls in FIFA 12 on iOS and Android – and in accessories like the clever Fling Mini joysticks and Ion’s range of iCades.

The touchscreen issue is the reason the PlayStation Vita has a real chance to shine in a handheld market dominated by powerful, but buttonless, phones. And while Android phones are addressing the issue, playing nice with Bluetooth controllers like the Gametel, the support from Apple just isn't there.

Some developers have been adding support for iCade into their titles, and more and more controllers – like the iCade 8-Bitty – are using iCade as a standard for their control setups. But at the moment most iCade games are simple retro arcade-style titles – no A-list titles like GTA III have chosen to support make-or-break iGame accessories.

Indeed, Apple's banned developers from mentioning the iCade hardware in their App Store submissions, which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of what’s fast becoming a standard.

The solution for Apple is pretty clear – create a proper gaming API, with support for physical controls including analogue joysticks. That would potentially unleash a wave of hardcore gaming peripherals for iOS, like the Ion Mobile Controller for Android.

Apple doesn't have past form in supporting gaming on its platforms – you need only look at how underserved gamers using Apple computers have been compared to their PC-using counterparts. But this is its chance to claw back ground it’s about to lose to game-hungry mobile users – who’ll drop their shiny iThings as soon as the gaming grass on the other side of the fence starts looking greener.

Come on, Apple – it's time to get your game on. Before OnLive and the Android army pwn you.

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