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iPhone 13 is Apple's first real step into the gaming phone space

iPhone 13
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple has revealed the iPhone 13, and among the specs and features flying across the screen were a few key hints that the latest luxury device is looking to take some big strides in the gaming phone space. 

The iPhone 13 Pro is best poised to take on some of the more recognizable gaming-oriented brands, with a 120Hz display, 1TB storage option, and additional GPU core. However, even the base model is looking to make some waves in mobile gaming with a powerful chipset and new gaming-focused iOS 15 features. 

While Samsung certainly hasn't tackled the world of high end gaming phones head on, it's always felt a little more on the curve than its main competition. However, iPhone 13 proves that Apple has its sights firmly set on luxury mobile gaming.

Sure, we've had Apple Arcade for a couple of years now, but Apple is still to see it gather momentum. Over the last few months, though, we've had some big name titles gracing the digital shelves, from NBA 2K22 to Castlevania. With LEGO Star Wars Battles and Thumper slated for release on the service, it certainly feels like things are kicking up a notch. 

iPhone 13 pre-order information

iPhone 13 Mini: $699
iPhone 13: $799
iPhone 13 Pro: $999
iPhone 13 Pro Max: $1099

Pre-order: September 17

Release Date: September 24

That's certainly true with the iPhone 13. The hardware we've seen this morning places Apple at a considerable advantage in many ways. While the best gaming phones sport stylized RGB, dedicated in-game control panels, and all the bloatware that comes with a specialized device, iPhone 13 is - at its core - a smartphone. It just so happens to be a smartphone that, finally, has a 120Hz display, next-gen OS support, and a four-core GPU rumored to be capable of incredible framerates. 

Apple doesn't need to scream 'gamer' with its entry into this space, and it doesn't. Gaming phones are very much heading in the direction of gaming laptops. Gone are the days of blocky, angular corners and hefty chassis that would weigh a ton. Today's best gaming laptops are slimline, and fit just as neatly into the office as they do a full RGB-clad setup. 

The iPhone 13 is primed to take advantage of this more subtle display of gaming hardware. It's a quiet power that comes easily from being the most popular phone in the world, but one that might just win the hearts of mobile gamers everywhere. 

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A new A15 Bionic chip

The iPhone 13 will use Apple's latest A15 Bionic chip, a stark upgrade over the A14 shipped inside the iPhone 12. Apple boasted that there is "nothing in the world like this chip", and with an improved six-core CPU and four-core GPU offering up "30% faster graphics than the leading competition." The Pro model will boost speed to 50% faster, thanks to an additional core. 

While we don't have official benchmark figures yet, reliable leaker FronTron has tested the chip with some impressive GPU results*. 

FronTron was able to push the iPhone 13's chip all the way up to 198fps during testing, before throttling down to between 140-150. That's a considerable graphical upgrade over the peak 120fps of the A14 and even beats Samsung's upcoming Exynos 2200 which maxes out at 170fps in similar testing. 

Those are some smooth frames, and considering the fact that mobile games are getting more and more complex with every passing generation, such power is a must if Apple wants to make a statement about its position in the gaming space. 

*Results are still reliant on CPU benchmarks

A 120Hz display... on the iPhone 13 Pro

The iPhone 13 Pro will launch with a 120Hz display. Sure, Android devices and even cheaper gaming phones have been sporting such high refresh rates for a while now. However, Apple has always employed the next generation of tech exactly when it needs to. That power will come in handy for swiping through your apps or scrolling a webpage, but let's face it - this is a spec mostly noticed by the gaming market. 

Plus, iPhone 13 will finally make the most of LTPO display tech. Pro Motion is Apple speak for a well-known screen feature that allows your device to vary its refresh rate depending on the horsepower required. That means you'll get maximum power exactly when you need it, saving that all important battery life. 

Apple dedicated a good chunk of the iPhone 13 Pro's reveal on its Super Retina XDR display. This OLED panel promises to allow gamers to look further into the distance of their game worlds and inspect closer details with greater clarity.

Upgraded storage

The iPhone 13 will ship with a new starting storage option, 128GB and will range all the way up to 1TB on the Pro. That's a lot of space for a lot of apps and, considering everyday use will still struggle to fill a 64GB device, a lot of those shelves are waiting to be filled with games. 

Larger storage options have been prevalent on many of the biggest gaming phones around, and Apple is playing catch up here. However, it's a necessary step to facilitating an app store that's rapidly filling with chunkier file sizes. 

iOS 15's onscreen gamepad

Apple announced at its latest WWDC conference that iOS 15 (scheduled for release in Fall 2021) will come with a new onscreen gamepad to bring a more console-like experience to mobile games. The API allows for customizable touchpads, d-pads, and up to four buttons mapped to two control zones on either side of the screen. Not only that, but Apple also claims that haptic feedback will be supported here.

Several games have taken on this feature by themselves, but Apple's unified approach with a developer-friendly API means we'll be seeing it implemented across the full Arcade spectrum and beyond come the end of the year. 

PS5 DualSense adaptive trigger support

If on-screen controls aren't your thing then you'll be glad to know that Apple will also support the PS5 DualSense's adaptive triggers in the next major software overhaul. Apple added support for the DualSense controller earlier this year, but the next step is baking the unique features of the gamepad into its own mobile titles. 

At the moment, Android does not support Sony's advanced haptic feedback which means those looking to make the most of one of the biggest features of the PS5 on the go will be sticking to iPhone for this generation. 

All in all, it looks like Apple isn't exactly switching the RGB LEDs on, but it doesn't need to. It may be playing catch up, but the iPhone 13 may finally put the world's most recognizable smart phone into the hands of more gamers, and with some impressive tech under the hood, they won't be disappointed. 

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Be sure to check out our roundup of the best gaming tablets if you're looking for a bigger screen. Or, check out the best iPhone games available now. 

Tabitha Baker
Managing Editor - Hardware

Managing Editor of Hardware at GamesRadar+, I originally landed in hardware at our sister site TechRadar before moving over to GamesRadar. In between, I've written for Tom’s Guide, Wireframe, The Indie Game Website and That Video Game Blog, covering everything from the PS5 launch to the Apple Pencil. Now, i'm focused on Nintendo Switch, gaming laptops (and the keyboards and mice that come with them), and tracking everything that suggests VR is about to take over our lives.