Yes, Apple’s inviting game bloggers to its January 27 super-secret product reveal, but I wouldn’t read anything into it. Unless the company’s launching a completely unanticipated device (always a possibility, but the odds are against it) expect to see–as a footnote to its writing and drawing capabilities–a slate-style computing gizmo touting slick touch-based entertainment demos. Maybe even some clever riffing on stuff like Crayon Physics. But nothing for which you’d ever trade in a set-top console or gaming PC.
Before you douse me in kerosene and fire up the blowtorches for saying so, I love the idea of an Apple tablet for all kinds of reasons. It’s just that gaming isn’t one of them.
Okay, qualification time. When I say ‘gaming’, I mean stuff like Uncharted 2, Dragon Age: Origins, Demon’s Souls, and Final Fantasy XIII. When Apple says ‘gaming’, it means Dizzy Bee, Trism, Critter Crunch, and Zen Pinball. If you’re an iPhone owner, you’ve possibly heard of one or two of those last five. Everyone else? Probably not.
So while there’s always the chance we’ll see a startling last-second metamorphosis, Apple’s gaming track record skews decidedly casual and mass-consumer. Even Apple’s mainstream OS X games are mostly delayed, underperforming Windows ports. The last halfway interesting Mac-debuted game? Bungie’s 1990s Marathon series.
What about a tablet that’s also a games console? Possible, but the sun going supernova tomorrow’s more likely. Apple’s never been much for bleeding edge ventures, so you can rule out a living room brawl with Microsoft’s Xbox 360 or Sony’s PlayStation, both systems packing ridiculosly high-end silicon and proprietary architectures designed solely for entertainment purposes.
And the Wii? Nintendo’s much lower end games console nonetheless trouncing Microsoft and Sony in unit sales? Again, better odds of the moon striking the earth next week. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have years–in Sony’s case, over a decade–invested in motion-control technology, along with streams of developers. Apple? Zilch.
What about something more up Apple’s alley…something to compete with Windows games with a tablet’s ergonomic advantages?
I’d give that slightly better odds. You know, in the same tier as ‘a meteor strike eradicating all life on the planet in a fortnight’. For starters, an Apple tablet could never challenge a mainstream games PC because Apple doesn’t design monstrosities. I’m typing this on a Sager 8690. It’s an eight-pound Paul-Bunyan-sized doorstop packing an Intel i7 920-XM processor alongside an Nvidia GTX 280M graphics chip. It chews through Crysis and Dragon Age and Dawn of War II like Smaug on steroids…and generates about as much heat. An Apple slate has to be light and lithe and at best, lukewarm, not bulky and full-flame stovetop. If it’s running games, they’ll have to be relatively low-end in terms of visual and mathematical sophistication.
Call me cynical, but until the iPhone, you’d have to be a slavering Apple apologist to excuse the fact that Apple hates gaming. The Mac as a games platform over the last decade? I rest my case.
So while the Apple i-whatever-it’s-ultimately-called may or may not transform the way you interact with multimedia apps like iLife and iTunes and, who knows, newfangled others like ‘iDraw’ and ‘iPaint’, when it comes to the gaming space Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo presently play in, expectations low, and novelty threat high.