Opinion: iPhone 4 is beautiful, but not revolutionary for games

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Opinion: iPhone 4 is beautiful, but not revolutionary for games

Four years, four handsets - Apple announced iPhone 4 today claiming it to be the most significant leap the company has made since releasing the original iPhone in 2007. While impressive as a mobile device and innovative as a consumer product, iPhone 4 appears to be an incremental advance for mobile gaming.

Much of the company's focus in designing iPhone 4 has been centered on non-gaming features including video calling, a much-improved camera and accompanying LED flash, and new video editing software. Compelling features to be sure, yet not relevant to gaming.

Features that do impact games - processing power, battery life, ergonomic design, introduction of a gyroscope - only evolve the iPhone gaming experience. Games will look better in higher resolution and play longer thanks to extended battery life, but there's little in this handset that will prompt innovations in gaming the same manner as earlier handsets.

Tech specs

This isn't to say that the improved screen and capable A4 processing chip aren't worthwhile upgrades; on the contrary, it's difficult to argue against a handset with a crisp 960x640 screen and lickety-split A4 processor. As a gamer, better hardware is always a good thing: yet, improving hardware specifications alone doesn't usher in a new generation.

It appears that iPhone 4 will be to iPhone 3GS as PlayStation 3 was to PlayStation 2. In other words, expect the same types of gaming experiences, just in higher resolution.

If anything, the gyroscope has the potential to encourage inventive gameplay. Surely accelerometer-enabled games will become even more responsive. Flying with the gyroscope will no doubt be more precise, accurate, and immersive than was possible with the accelerometer alone.

The source of innovation

Of course, a game device doesn't need to be revolutionary to be successful or compelling. iPhone 4 will undoubtedly be a joy to use for games because of its sheer power and graceful design. The handset packs in nearly as much processing capability as iPad, which ought to provide developers with plenty of power to craft interesting games.

What we know from the console space, though, is that increasing processing power and upping the resolution isn't enough to move gaming forward. Keep experiences fresh requires innovative game design coupled with advanced graphics.

Flight Control is a brilliant game not because it maxed out the iPhone 3G processor, but due to its genre-defining use of the touchscreen.

Impact of Game Center

Game Center could potentially have a greater impact on mobile gaming than iPhone 4. Unfortunately, it was mentioned not even once in passing during Apple's lengthy two hour keynote.

While a handset as advanced as iPhone 4 has never before been sold, it offers a more powerful version of the existing line-up. Game Center, on the other hand, promises to reshape mobile gaming with a unified platform that even handheld manufacturers like Nintendo and Sony have not had the ambition to attempt.

Think not of what iPhone 4 can do for games, but what games can do for iPhone 4. New hardware won't bring innovation unto itself. Better feature certainly open up more possibility for creativity, but it's going to take talented developers to seize that opportunity to craft the sort of innovative games that have defined the iPhone experience.

Tracy Erickson
Tracy Erickson
Manning our editorial outpost in America, Tracy comes with years of expertise at mashing a keyboard. When he's not out painting the town red, he jets across the home of the brave, covering press events under the Pocket Gamer banner.