Apple has done it again. The company known for continual innovation launched the next game-changer. But the question that still exists on many people's minds: What game will it actually change?
Some people see the iPad as an entirely new platform, while others think of it as just another version of the iPhone. As a game developer, I look at this exciting piece of hardware as a new medium for the delivery of everything from innovative gaming experiences to interactive books to novel takes on productivity software, all on one incredibly well-designed device.
Apps that didn't really feel at home on the iPhone, say the game Scrabble, for instance, work perfectly on the iPad. Obviously, this owes a lot to the much larger screen size, which has taken it from "just another iPhone" to a new platform and social device. People can now easily play games together on one device, movies can be watched by multiple viewers, and the Web can be searched with many taking part in the fun. A phone cannot and never will be able to offer the level of shared interactivity the iPad brings to the table.
One of the key things that will make this platform different from anything else on the market will be the way developers utilize the additional screen size to build apps that are revolutionary in the way they exploit the device's digital real estate.
Take gaming, for instance. The iPad has the ability to get people playing games together again. This is not about synchronous or asynchronous multiplayer games. This is all about people playing games together in the same room -- the kind of "social games" that were played long before Facebook existed. It's no coincidence that there were a slew of board-game-like apps at launch. The huge, high-res screen makes a suitable game board replacement, and there's no need to pack up the pieces after you're done. Two players can play Flight Control HD across from each other on the same device. It makes real, live social gaming fun again.
There are rumors that Apple may be working on larger iPads for the future. If the company makes them the size of a typical game board, Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley had better watch out. It is much easier to play Monopoly digitally -- the banker doesn't have to do any math.
The Development Challenge -- Does Size Really Matter?
Game developers who have been steeped in creating apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch will have to shift their thinking before approaching iPad development. The real difficulty lies in design, not programming. Developers will have to think differently in order to create a great experience on a screen that has more than five times the pixel area of an iPhone or iPod Touch.
At launch, it was easy to see which developers got this right and which missed the point. There were many poorly designed apps that abused the extra space by bloating their software and over-complicating the UI. In a way, it was as if developers who felt too constrained by the iPhone's limited screen size overcompensated when they got their hands on the iPad. We call it the Napoleonic complex of app development.
Aside from the challenges of designing for a larger screen, developers are going to be faced with more competition from within the platform. Early polls seemed to indicate that buyers were less interested in gaming on the iPad than then they are on an iPhone. Other functions on iPad will vie for the user's attention. For example, many people will spend quite a bit of their time on the iPad reading ebooks and creating content (things that were very impractical on iPhone), or browsing the Web and watching videos (activities that are more naturally suited to the iPad's beautifully large screen). While iPhone users witnessed the development of some truly revolutionary games, developers will need to be even more creative on the iPad to steal back the lion's share of user time spent interacting with these other functions.
At the end of the day, the iPad will be all about the apps, and there will likely be some revolutionary games among them. Thinking back to the early days of iPhone app development, it was clear that developers didn't hit their stride for several months, if not a year. It won't take as long for iPad apps to take off. And when they do, sit back and enjoy the show -- because that's when the real potential of this device will become clear.