The Xbox 360 was released in 2005. Back then, its three-core PowerPC CPU and ATI R520-based GPU were respectable pieces of hardware. Today, almost 40 per cent of PC gamers have quad-core CPUs and a video card that would disintegrate the Xbox 360's "Xenos" GPU with a mere glance. But it's not the PC, or even consoles, that holds the attention of the gaming industry. No, mobile phones are the focus now.
The graph above shows NVIDIA's estimates of where mobile GPU performance is expected to be in the next few years. The sharp, powder-blue line shows the original Xbox and the 360; PCs are represented by the light green line and mobiles are shown via the dark green line (with the first-generation iPhone and NVIDIA's Tegra 2 and 3 providing data points, respectively). Going by the graph, NVIDIA expects mobiles to reach Xbox 360 levels of GPU power sometime in 2013 and exceed those levels within a year.
I never really put much stock into mobile or even console graphics performance — for a long time, the amount of pixels they pushed was dwarfed by the PC. And that's before you start turning on extra effects like anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, SSAO and other visual bells and whistles, further diminishing any respect one might have for phones and dedicated gaming machines. But with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Note hitting resolutions of 800 x 1280 (and many other Galaxy models not far behind) — not to mention the new iPad's 2048 x 1536 — the extra grunt is now justified.
By 2014, however, I'm pretty sure Microsoft will have unveiled, if not released, the next iteration of the Xbox and that — along with the PlayStation 4 — will set the benchmark for graphics performance (ignoring PCs, obviously).
Regardless of how necessary this amount of processing power is for a mobile, how long will it take for phones to catch up to these new devices? Now that's a question I'd like to see the answer to.