Commentary

What The Nexus One Means For Android Gaming

Almost two years ago I wrote a post here about how an announcement that week was going to revolutionize portable gaming.  I was talking about the announcement of the iPhone SDK and the pending availability of native apps.

 

Now, it's hard to step away from the clarity of hindsight, but at the time this was a controversial point.  Games were already available on mobile -- why would the iPhone be any different?  Well, an announcement this week poses a new point of controversy: What will the Nexus One mean for the prospects of Android-based portable gaming?

Fast: The Nexus One sports a 1GHz Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm, and has on-chip graphical capabilities.  This device is capable of some promising 3D potential.  Future Android phones are likely to match or upgrade the speed to compete with HTC's newest phone.

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Pretty: OLED screens are quite pretty, and have incredible contrast ratios.  The Nexus One is equipped with such a screen, running at a 480x800 resolution and 3.7 inches.  That's about 25% greater pixel density than Sony's beautiful 11-inch 1080p OLED screen.

Fractured: The big problem facing Android is consistency.  The Nexus One doesn't have a keyboard.  The Droid does.  Upcoming Android phones will have keypads.  Screen sizes vary.  Internal speeds vary.  This is a developer's nightmare, and is particularly painful for game development.

Third partied: On the other hand, one of Android's advantages, namely backgrounding apps, could come to the rescue.  We're starting to see hardware accessories for the iPhone go hand-in-hand with a software package on the device, but this only works when that app is open.  On Android, we might see third-party accessories that hook into games via a backgrounding "connector" app.  If a company like MadCatz made a slick controller that went along with an API to control games, and that became an industry standard, it could give Android gaming a major edge.

Ultimately, I think the direction Android is going will attract some great games.  It's a powerful platform, and the upcoming devices are, as Google coined, "superphones."  There's a problem with the fractured versions of hardware and Android revisions, but if the market is fertile enough, developers will bite the bullet.  

I keep hearing that Android doesn't stand a change because the App Store is such a success.  But keep in mind that Android has only been around for a year, and when the App Store launched for the iPhone (which wasn't Apple's idea), the devices had already been flying off store shelves for a year.  The quality of the apps that launched on the iPhone are on par with current apps on Android, and the number and quality of Android handsets lined up for 2010 are very strong.  Once Android's market share reaches a critical mass, established iPhone game companies will flock to the platform.  I think we're looking at a faster maturity from device launch for Android's Marketplace than the App Store (when accounting for the leading year of hardware sales).

In two years, expect to look back and wonder how there was any sort of controversy that Android would be a very popular gaming platform.

1 comment about "What The Nexus One Means For Android Gaming".
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  1. Matt B from Foviance, January 8, 2010 at 12:07 p.m.

    At the moment I would worry about the size of the gaming apps and hence the number of them you can load under the current OS restrictions.

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