Apple’s iPhone 4S Probably Won’t Mean a Big Leap in Gaming – Yet

Well, it happened — Apple announced the next version of its smartphone line, the iPhone 4S. It’s more of an incremental update to the iPhone line than it is a wholly new device, with some new internal hardware but the same design as the same outward design as the current iPhone 4.

From a gaming standpoint, two things about the iPhone 4S are notable: First, it includes the A5 dual-core processor chip Apple first introduced with the iPad 2 way back in March. The chip means the phone can render graphics “seven times faster,” according to Apple. On the iPad 2, there are already some titles that make use of the increased power, and they look pretty snazzy.

ChAIR and Epic Games announced the sequel to its super-popular iOS hit Infinity Blade at the media event, which will be optimized for the A5 and the iPhone 4S. So far, the screens and trailer look pretty phenomenal — games on the new iPhone are going to be pretty.

But are they going to revolutionize mobile gaming, or gaming in general? Unfortunately, signs point to “no,” at least for right now.

History to Learn From: The iPad 2
Arguably a more important gaming machine than the iPhone is the iPad 2 — statistically, that seems to be all anyone uses it for. So technically, the A5 chip has already been on the market for better than six months. And in that time, have we seen mobile gaming absolutely go rip-roaring out of the gate?

Nope.

Now, that’s not to say the A5 isn’t cool or that mobile gaming doesn’t continue to pick up speed, because it absolutely does. However, while the iPad 2 has been on the market for a while, developers aren’t adopting the additional power of the A5 chip as a requirement for their games. They’re optimizing some games for the iPad 2, when it seems like a good idea to do so — mostly when graphics are a big deal in a game, like Infinity Blade or Real Racing 2 — but they’re leaving the door open for older iPad owners, too. The same is likely to take place with the iPhone. The wider adoption of the iPhone in general, and probably the iPhone 4S in particular, might mean more optimized games, but don’t expect a wave of awesome new games to flood the iTunes App Store just because they can.

The Real Game-Changer is iOS 5
Excuse my pun in the subhead there, but it might be the truth. When iOS 5 hits on Oct. 12, one big new feature will be available to iPhone 4S and iPad 2 owners: Airplay Mirroring. That’s a feature that lets you wirelessly transmit what you’re seeing on your iOS device to a compatible device, like a computer. Or a TV set.

Users will need something like the Apple TV set-top box to do it, but Mirroring will be like turning your iPhone into a game console and a controller. You know that new Wii U that Nintendo was bandying about at E3 this year? That’s basically what Apple is producing, except with a huge library of games and the ability to be not a video game system.

If and when developers start embracing the potential power of iOS 5 as Apple rolls out new devices, like the iPhone 5 that’s likely for next year, then we could see some very big tremors rippling not just mobile gaming, but video gaming at large. The big console companies might struggle to compete with dollar apps that you can play on your TV, or $8 games like Infinity Blade II that graphically rival titles you can get at retail for a lot more.

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