Why Apple's New iPad Won't Win Over The Xbox Gamer

Apple's next iPad is a tremendously powerful device. It boasts a gorgeous screen and some pretty impressive hardware. One prominent game developer even bragged that its specs trump those of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 gaming consoles.

"People are always talking about blurring the line between handheld and console," Chillingo co-head and director Chris Byatte told Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo during an interview at the Game Developers Conference this week. "This is a landmark device where it's already happening."

Maybe it is. But it won't totally win over the hardcore faithful, the console gamers who are dedicated to their televisions and controllers. It can't. It just doesn't have the controls.

I have no doubt that Apple's iPad will be a wonderful tablet. It will sell millions and usher in a whole new era of entertaining (and often surprisingly deep) games and interactive experiences. I just don't think it's a landmark device. I don't think it blurs the line between handheld and console. And I certainly don't think it can change the face of the gaming industry, as some of the buzz has suggested.

Don't get me wrong: the touchscreen can be fantastic. I've lost quite a bit of time to iPhone games like Tiny Heroes and Ziggurat. Even ported console games like Square Enix's Final Fantasy Tactics feel wonderful on a touchscreen, when they're handled correctly. More and more developers are starting to find unique ways to design controls for the system, and more and more console gamers are starting to realise that it's not just good for Words With Friends (though Words with Friends is pretty awesome too).

To console gamers, Apple's tablet can't come close to mirroring that feeling, no matter how powerful its guts are.

But in an industry where touching is everything, touchscreens can't be the only thing. As subtle as it can be sometimes, haptic feedback is an integral component to most interactive experiences. The tiny click you hear when you push a button. The vibration of your controller. The slight resistance as you pull your triggers to a game's rhythm, shooting soldiers and aliens along with the pulse of your screen. To console gamers, Apple's tablet can't come close to mirroring that feeling, no matter how powerful its guts are.

Nintendo recognises this. That's why the controller for its upcoming gaming console, the Wii U, blends an iPad-like touchscreen with the joysticks and buttons of a more traditional device. Perhaps it's also one of the reasons Nintendo has been steadfast in refusing to bring some of its massively popular series -- games like Mario and Zelda -- to mobile platforms. Maybe it realises that those games need haptic feedback to work.

Either way, I'm not picky. I'll happily play games on both my iPhone and my consoles, both portable and stationary. They're separate entities -- almost separate genres. An iPhone game can be just as wonderful as a console game. It's just wonderful in a different way. A less mashy, more rubby way.

With this new device, just like with its last two tablets, Apple will challenge the dedicated handheld gaming systems on the market. And it will do a very good job competing for console gamers' wallets. But I don't think it'll compete for their thumbs. Not full-time. Not without a set of new buttons.


Comments

    The biggest thing I hate about touch screen gaming is that my fingers are in the way of what Im trying to see.

      Yup it's my issue with my iphone. Especially with big thumbs. anything that uses more than a one touch feature in order to actually control properly means the screen is all gone.

      It's why i wish they had put the touch pad on the back(Ala PSV) like they rumored for Iphone 3S/4 from memory. But then they decided against it since most people have cases on their phone.

      At least then you could have two full thumbsticks and still get the entire screen

    Portable gaming will never be as good as console or PC gaming.

      DS told me you're wrong.

        PS2 says hello

        My 50" plasma tells me you are wrong.

        Unless I can hook the DS up to it, and play my games in HD from across the room?

      I think those 2 things are trying to fill different demands. One is for sittingin your lounge room/office/study and playing, one is to take with you on the train for the commute.

      It sort of like arguing that playing football will never be as good as playing poker.

      As far as gaming on touch devices: rubbish. Touchscreens as input devices usually fail miserably. Buttons are far more satisfying and responsive to use.

      That is just like saying 'cars will never be as good as planes'. They are not comparable things in the first place.

    I do enjoy some of the games designed for touchscreen devices. But the ones the rely on a virtual D-Pad and buttons frustrate me. Without being able to feel the grooves and bumps if the buttons, I can't tell if my finger slips from one button to another. Which causes me to mess up a lot in those games. Maybe it's just me.

    You'd think there is a market for Bluetooth gaming hardware peripherals for these devices, especially with the airplay options where you can send your screen from your device to your tv...put a controller in my hand and you have a near perfect portable gaming system for me...usable while travelling and then being able to couch potatoe properly in hotel rooms !!!

      This. This is their plan. Bluetooth 4.0 controller for $60, and problem solved.

      I give it 6 months for the peripheral, another 6-12 months for some ports and new games that use it (well). In the mean time Apple will further improve Airplay for fast response.

      Christmas 2013 will see adoption increase exponentially.

        If you're holding the controller, where is the iPad?

        The whole point of the iPad is portability. For gaming, I should be able to get button controls AND touchscreen controls while holding the device. The only tablet which seems to get this is the Razer Fiona, which I think looks promising.

          With AirPlay you don't have to be holding the iPad if you're in front of a tv, but you can still hold it if travelling and can't use a stand...I'll sell you a stand...they're easy! ... To me having a physical controller 'option' just adds to the platform...

        Except the problem isn't solved. Unless they have decent emulation tech for said controller. Otherwise unless the app supports it, your controller is useless.

    There all ready are some controllers like iCade and I think they are actually doing a gamepad version. The problem is getting developers to add support for them. Most games with virtual dpads and buttons would work just fine. It's just a matter of making it a standard.

    Why people who eat apples don't like eating oranges?

    Too bad the OS is shit

      What an insightful comment.

      At least say why you don't like the OS if you feel that way.

        I picked up an Android tablet a while ago and I have to say, iOS is just completely blitzed by ICS. On my tablet I can put custom widgets on the homescreens - instant toggles for rotation lock, bluetooth, wifi, and all manner of settings. I can remove icons I barely need, I can use a fast, powerful tabbed browser right out of the box rather than the slow cumbersome experience on the ipad. I can install from non-marketplace sources very easily, without any third party software. I can load up custom keyboards, I can start a queue of app downloads from work which will have automatically downloaded to my device by the time I get home. I mean, that's just off the top of my head but you get the point.

          Haha all the things that make computers in general a horrible experience for most people :)

            Well, specific "I can install from non-marketplace sources very easily, without any third party software." What a nightmare (for 99.9% of people)

              Why is that a nightmare? It's a setting which is switched off by default.

                If you want to install say, the recent fanmade Android remake of Counter Strike, you turn "allow installation from non-marketplace sources" on, browse to the website you want, download the apk (install file) and install it straight away. No jailbreaking or screwing around.

                  the concept of "download the apk (install file)" is a nightmare to most people

                  Obviously anyone on a Kotaku forum has very little trouble with the concept of an install file haha :D but to most people in the world that sounds scary. They want to just press the store button, press the button to get the app they want that has been pre-checked and guaranteed to run on their device and it installs and runs. Thats what iOS does well and why its popular :)

    I hate to sound like an elitist but handhelds, TV consoles and iPads all look like the same thing to a PC gamer. They're all closed systems with simple controls. Xbox/PS3 gamers seem to me the most likely people to pick this up. if they want complexity and good controls they'd be playing their games on a PC. The iPad is directed squarely at the casual console gamer crowd, the people who don't care about graphics or controls and just want to play a simple game.

      While I agree that you can't touch PC Gaming in terms of complex and customisable control systems, to then claim that console gamers are all part of the same 'casual' crowd seems a little naive...

        Yeah I stick to consoles for almost all of my gaming. I consider myself a hardcore gamer but I don't like to mess around with computers too much to get my games going. Don't get me wrong - I would play on a PC if it had a guaranteed 30fps on every game I play - but I don't and sometimes I just want to play - not fiddle. I play on PC sometimes to save money - ie the games are so cheap on Steam that I will fiddle around and get the experience just right sometimes.

        I would still use a controller - there's something about pulling the trigger to shoot and that vibration feedback that comes along with it that just does not come across at all with a mouse and keyboard. 'Walking' and movement, as another example, on a keyboard feels very digital - i go left or I go right at an on/off pace - games make up for this with "acceleration" of the keys...but on a console controller I have analogue control - so i get hundreds of variations in the movement of each joystick with how far I push the stick and what exact angle I push the stick...there's every angle available to me - not just left, right, up, and down like on a keyboard. I don't see this argument made enough for controllers over keyboard and mouse - sure a mouse is more precise for aiming but it feels wrong and less immersive, more artificial somehow. And the keyboard just feels too digital - too artificial to make games feel natural - there's not enough analogue or natural "feel". To me at least.

        I believe this tactile analogue feedback, analogue control and specifically "triggers" are why controllers are better than keyboard and mouse. I want to shoot people - not click on them and tap the 9 key to punch.

        If that's a casual gamer's perspective then I'll be damned.

          You don't want the best gaming experience. If 30FPS is your goal you barely even want an adequate gaming experience. If that isn't a casual gamer's perspective than what is?

          You just encapsulated perfectly why I feel that a controller is siperior to KBM control.

      You don't sound like an elitist, you just sound naive. How is playing crysis at 1000fps at 4k with 16XAA a 'BETTER' experience than playing mario kart 3DS at 240x400? or Where's My Water with one ONE button? It's a DIFFERENT experience :)

    Why won't they just make a USB peripheral controller for it. What the bloody hell is so hard about that. We've got third party ones and the icade, but no traditional good controller. Why would they not do this if it only makes gaming on an iPad better. I would honestly buy one if they did. I HATE my iPhones games. They look amazing (well not so much now I have Vita), but the controls are HORRIBLE. They don't register, using them covers the screen and your view. Ugh!

      For starters, because we are trying to get RID of bloody cables where possible :D

    If you want a more real trigger feel to a game there is a mouse in the shape of a gun and a Zalman gaming mouse has a gun grip style of holding it, both more gun like then a standard console controller.

    Why is being more precise wrong and less immersive? If you want the real gun experience the closest is something like the Wii with a gun attachment, where you actually aim and shoot at the target (or those arcade gun games), not aiming via tilting a joystick. Thats hardly immersive or real. Guns arent even aimed like that.

    the one thing that consoles have over PCs is rumble feature which no mouse has, thats the only thing IMO they have over PC. However i'll take accuracy over rumble anyday.

    Controls feeling digital is a problem with console controllers too. Sure the movement is more precise with analogue, but the aiming is more digital compared to the accuracy of a mouse (which is more important when you need to scan quickly for targets on both the horizontal and vertical planes, something that a mouse just kills a consoles analogue control). So neither control has an advantage here, however if analogue control was standard on PC games, gaming pads (like the g13) could easily give PC gaming the same precision as a console controller, but i dont think thats the case so this isnt and advantage to either control method.

    COnsole controllers are great for many games types, but for FPS its simply a case of good enough, but hardly (IMO) better the a mouse and keyboard, which is more precise and accurate, which when all things are considered are important when your gaming life is on the line. Sure if you want a challenge the console controller is better, but thats like saying, i'd rather drive my car with a joystick, when we all know that a steering wheel is much better for the job.

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