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So it’s finally happened then. In an event about as surprising as chocolate beating poo in a blind taste test across 297 samples, Apple has officially announced the iPad 3 at GDC. Okay, so it isn’t actually calling it the iPad 3 yet, but given that the device is in fact the third iPad, that’s what I’m going to keep calling it, until Apple officially renames it the Super Hyper Mega Wonder Pad: Komplete Turbo Edition. Or Jeff, or something.
Anyway, what can it do? Well for starters it has a mammoth 2048 x 1536 Retina Display screen, a quad-core graphics chip and a 1080p video camera. And Gears of War dev and iOS advocate Epic Games has stated that the device is in some respects more powerful than a PS3 or Xbox 360. So, it looks like the next round of “Consoles are dead, iPads are the future” discussion is due to gear up any… minute…
Above: New iPad, yes. Important new core gaming device, no
Yeah, now. Because I’m starting it. Admittedly I’m getting fairly sick of the debate, but after hearing it for two iPad generations already, there are a few heaps of bullsh*t I feel need to be addressed. Epic boss Mark Rein has said this week (in regards to console manufacturers providing ultra-high hardware specs) that “We really are pushing these guys, because if they don't, Apple will go right past them”. The implication is that increasingly powerful tablet and phone devices are going to put increasing pressure on console manufacturers to push their tech into increasingly bleeding edge areas in order to compete. And personally, I think that’s balls. Because the fact is, while the power of these devices is comparable, the functionality and culture of their use is not.
So what if an iPad 3 can compete with a PS3 technically? A PS3 also has a proper controller which opens up a million different gameplay interactions and interface design options an iPad could never dream of. It doesn’t matter how pretty and sharp a tablet’s pictures are if the player can’t do anything deep and meaningful with them. To me, increasingly powerful tablets and phones just smack of impotent potential. Like a big-balled porn star who can’t get it up. Or an architect who promises that his building has the most beautiful interiors the world has ever seen, but neglects to install any exterior windows or doors to allow people to enter.
Yes, Epic might have blown the world away by getting the Unreal Engine 3 to run on an iPhone, but when Infinity Blade finally came out, what did we get? An on-rails, grim-dark fantasy version of Fruit Ninja. A standard issue casual gaming app template dressed up in densely textured armour in a bid to pass itself off as a serious hardcore experience. And why? Because however shiny modern iDevices can make things look, their lack of interface makes the deep, eclectic mechanics of console and PC games impossible to implement. Yes, the new Diablo-style Infinity Blade: Dungeons is a small step forward, but it really only further emphasises the need to design around the system's controls, rather than using them to simply realise a developer's inspiration as is the case on other systems.
Ditto an iPad's inability to emulate the whole sensory experience of playing home console or PC games. You can stick a quad-core processor in a toaster if you like, but if it doesn't also have a controller, sofa and TV attached, I sure as hell am not playing Skyrim on it.
Even handheld consoles seem to be holding their own, despite the last couple of years’ doom-saying in regards to their supposed impending death-by-iPhone. In hindsight, the 3DS’ early launch woes were far more a product of a weak games line-up and diabolically misguided marketing than competition from Apple. And the system is doing fine now, having sold double in its first year what the mega-hit original DS sold in its first 12 months. And even Vita, after a fairly dismal launch in Japan, is doing okay, having sold 1.2 million since December despite a whopping price point for a dedicated gaming-only handheld.
Above: In theory, Apple' success has made it impossible for traditional handhelds to survive. In reality, that's balls
Yes, I fully expect the iPad 3 to sell faster than either Nintendo or Sony’s machines, but that will be as much a result of its swiss army knife feature-set and the unquestioning upgrade addiction of the ever-rabid cult of Apple as it will any real gaming prowess. I own an iPhone. I love it, and I play a raft of games on it. But on a long train journey I still find myself just as likely to pull out my 3DS. Because it can effortlessly provide on-the-move gaming experiences that an iDevice just cannot.
Yes, I have no doubt that the iPad 3 will be a fantastic bit of kit. I have no doubt that for folk who want a strong piece of multifunctional computing tech with them on the move (and those who just want to pose with such a thing in public) it will be a fine purchase. And a few studios will put out genuinely addictive, innovative entertainment apps that make the best of its functionality to a thoroughly enjoyable end. But as a real, legitimate gaming device? Nah. It’ll just make Angry Birds look sharper. Again.
For more details on the device, check out TechRadar's 'New iPad 3 review'.