Apple’s big bet on iOS 7 gaming to play out this fall

As iOS 7 rolls out to the public, anticipation builds for iPhone game controllers and apps optimized for the iPhone 5S’s A7 chip. It’s all part of Apple’s plan to keep the mobile gaming crown.

 

Epic Games subsidiary Chair Entertainment demoed the latest installment in the popular iOS series Infinity Blade onstage at the Apple iPhone event September 10.

There’s a good reason why a significant portion of Apple’s iPhone announcement last week was dedicated to showing off the flagship iOS game series Infinity Blade. That’s because with iOS 7 — rolling out to the public Wednesday — and the new A7 chip’s 64-bit architecture, Apple is signaling to the world that it’s dead set on remaining the preeminent mobile-gaming ecosystem.

iOS has long been the leader in that space thanks to its robust platform and the ease with which developers of all sizes — from single-app makers to triple-A studios with sprawling mobile suites — can monetize games. Game apps have heavily populated the most downloaded and highest grossing charts since the advent of the App Store and have launched entire studios to stardom, from Rovio with Angry Birds to King with Candy Crush.

Maintaining this edge means delivering not only full-blown Bluetooth controller support —initially announced at this year’s WWDC as part of Apple’s MFi (made for iOS) accessory certification — but urging developers to round out new hardware with top-notch apps that take advantage of the A7. Both strategies are well under way, and Apple is in a strong position to keep the mobile-gaming crown as it brings them to fruition this fall.

Apple has long had its sights set on making handheld gaming devices less appealing, a battle mobile apps have been winning. Apple’s success against traditional gaming has always hinged on whether or not it can convince iPhone owners that devices like the PlayStation Vita, Nintendo 3DS, and Nvidia Shield cannot keep up with the pace of iOS game development and its impending hardware offerings.

Or, at the very least, that those devices are not worth the money. After all, why cast out large chunks of change on a Nintendo or Sony-owned gaming ecosystem, Apple logic goes, when one exists on your smartphone that’s steadily catching up to the gaming juggernauts?

While 64-bit smartphone chips will be flooding the market come next year — as well as updated and cheaper portable gaming devices — Apple is gunning to be there first, with developers at its side and a line of impressive controllers to boot. If it succeeds, it will be a battle already won.

Optimizing for the A7 has already begun
When iOS 7 goes public, game developers will have already optimized apps waiting for download. It makes sense too when you note that iOS adoption is typically quick and widespread. (One month after iOS 6‘s release last September, more than 60 percent of usershad installed the update.)

“The updated versions of Dungeon Hunter 4 and Playmobil Pirates have cleared Apple approval and are up on the iTunes store,” said Thomas Price, a representative for mobile game developer Gameloft. The studio also has a dozen more apps waiting for Apple approval, all optimized for the jump to 64-bit with the iPhone 5S and the more minute software tweaks present in the updated Game Center app.

More are on the way from a number of high-profile developers. At Electronic Arts, developers are taking advantage of the OpenGS ES 3.0 interface, a cross-platform API — currently supported only by the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One, updated Nexus 7, and Sony Xperia Z — widely used for smartphone graphics rendering.

Schiller touted processor performance improvements in the iPhone 5S, which uses Apple's new A7 chip, but didn't detail which speed tests he was using.

Schiller touted processor performance improvements in the iPhone 5S, which uses Apple’s new A7 chip, but didn’t detail which speed tests he was using.

With the iPhone 5S, Apple joins that batch with the added benefit of being the only one of those smartphones to push a 64-bit processor.

“OpenGL ES 3.0 delivers stunning visual experiences, which will be immediately apparent on EA’s graphically rich 3D titles such as Real Racing 3 and Madden NFL 25, as well as FIFA 14 by EA SPORTS and Heroes of Dragon Age, which will launch this fall,” said Bernard Kim, SVP of Mobile Publishing at EA.

Developer Kabam, makers of the popular Facebook-integrated Kingdoms of Camelot series, is also prepping a number of updates for iOS 7.

“Kabam will release new game content for its most popular titles, including The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth, Fast & Furious 6: The Game, and Dragons of Atlantis: Heirs of the Dragon,” said a company representative, though no timeline or specifics on the updates were made available. More notably however is Kabam’s plan to utilize iOS 7’s unique parallax effect — a pseudo-3D motion most recognizable in Apple’s new wallpapers — in its upcoming Heroes of Camelot title.

Leading the charge is Infinity Blade 3, which hits the App Store in tandem with iOS 7. Users won’t be able to access the graphical capabilities baked into the game that optimize for the A7 chip until they get their hands on an iPhone 5S (sales start September 20). Still, the graphical marketing push from both developer Epic Games and Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller last Tuesday shows that the iPhone maker wants the best and most aggressive mobile gaming advancements to take center stage on iOS.

 

iPhone controller on horizon, but questions remain
While new titles and app updates will be rolling out en masse following iOS 7’s release, don’t expect official controller announcements until right before the holiday season. Most models are in development right now, with expected unveilings estimated for late October and early November.

pic::Moga’s Pocket Controller for Android smartphones that illustrates just one variety of MFi controller that could hit Apple handsets this fall.

 

PowerA, makers of the Moga line of portable and console-style Android controllers, has iPhone controller announcements in the pipeline, though company representatives won’t say exactly when we’ll see our first iOS 7-optimized handheld or what it will look like.

It’s unclear whether the company’s current portable offering — an Xbox-style controller with a flip-out holster to fasten in your smartphone — will simply be ported over to iOS, or if we’ll see an entirely new Moga design. PowerA also offers a pro model in which the device mirrors the smartphone screen to a television through proprietary software. That’s an unlikely option with Apple given that a mirroring function conflict directly with the Apple TV’s AirPlay.

It’s also worth noting that the idea of controller support, despite piquing the interest of hardware makers and game developers alike, is a bit of a turnaround for Apple, who built its smartphone reputation with the launch of the original iPhone on a touchscreen that forgoes the need for physical buttons. But the company sees the value in competing with handhelds not just in experience with low-cost, easy-access apps, but in functionality. An A7 chip means near-console level performance capacity, making an add-on controller a no-brainer, especially if its of third-party make and Apple can test the waters by casually urging developers to add support.

Perhaps the most anticipated iOS controller is in the works at Logitech. The company made headlines in June when leaked images of early handset prototypes hit the Web and the hardware manufacturer confirmed its plans. Early concepts show a diverging design from PowerA wherein the iPhone is fitted inside a controller, turning the device into something akin to a PlayStation Vita.

“We’ll support Apple’s new MFi game controller framework, and plan to deliver a compelling gaming experience to iOS gamers this fall,” said a Logitech representative, though the company declined to elaborate further, as has been the case with many hardware manufacturers since WWDC.

But while the iPhone announcement and A7 unveiling have done little to tip the controller manufacturers into spilling more secrets — let alone try and speed up the delivery of the hardware — Apple is still sitting pretty at the forefront of the mobile gaming industry thanks to the marketing bump of the A7’s capabilities. It will only further its lead in the coming months with more and more iOS 7-optimized apps and the influx of new 5C and 5S devices running its latest software.

Integral to Apple’s lead is the developer-held mindset that iOS marks the cutting edge playground for the newest advancements in mobile gaming. It lets them optimize for the small subset of users who can enjoy the latest and greatest graphics and functionality while the widest audience — those with the current iPhone 5 and 4S — gain last year’s touted advancements in trickle-down fashion. The “rinse and repeat” annual iPhone strategy will continue to drive the iOS ecosystem’s role on this front.

“Important to gamers and game developers like Kabam, which has had four games among the top 25 grossing apps on the Apple App Store, the new interface provides a better game-playing experience,” Kabam’s CEO Kevin Chou said on September 10 as Apple unveiled the iPhone 5S. “And the new controller puts Apple at the forefront of bridging the ever-shrinking gap between consoles and iOS devices.”

Kabam may be bias toward Apple’s success, given its tied to the success of its own apps, but the point is still valid: The gap is shrinking, and iOS is up front by a wide margin.

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Hardware ahoy: Adobe to sell its Mighty digital pen in 2014

The software company will become a hardware company, too, with its digital pen for iPads in the first half of 2014. The “Napoleon” digital ruler remains a work in progress.

The Adobe Mighty stylus has been updated since its prototype days to incorporate a narrower, more precise tip.

The Adobe Mighty stylus has been updated since its prototype days to incorporate a narrower, more precise tip.

 

Like Google and Microsoft, Adobe Systems has been bitten by the hardware bug.

The software company announced Tuesday that it will begin selling its Mighty digital pen — a stylus for iPads that it first demonstrated in prototype form in May. And it announced two new iOS apps, Parallel and Contour, that make use of the Mighty and a related product, a digitally connected ruler called Napoleon that Adobe hasn’t committed to bring to market.

The Mighty is designed to close the gap between drawing on paper and using a tablet, with a Bluetooth link to the tablet software and drawing technology that Michael Gough, Adobe’s vice president of experience design, said is precise and responsive.

“It’s kind of surprising how good it feels to get that tactile feedback while you’re drawing. I think there’s going to be a lot of analog in the next generation of digital tools,” said Gough.

The Bluetooth link can communicate pen status information such as how much pressure an artist is exerting on it, and it also optionally links out to Adobe’s Creative Cloud service. That brings network-based features such as tools that import a pen user’s color-scheme ideas or elements copied to a virtual clipboard.

The Mighty is geared to attract the next generation of creative types — a potentially much larger market with an Instagram-trained population willing to experiment.

“When you were three or four or five years old, you could draw, then one person told you your drawing was crap, and you stopped,” Gough said. “A number of new platforms and tools out there are convincing a generation that they’re all creative. A new motivation for Adobe is to make it possible to feel creative and, in the case of Mighty, convince people that they can draw.”

The Adobe Mighty and Napoleon devices are designed to work with iPads for now, but since they just work by simulating the human finger, they could work on Android devices with appropriate software.

The Adobe Mighty and Napoleon devices are designed to work with iPads for now, but since they just work by simulating the human finger, they could work on Android devices with appropriate software.

 

Adonit partnership
Adobe has signed a partnership with Adonit, maker of the Jot tablet stylus, to make the Mighty, Gough said. One of the changes in the new version is a tip that’s narrower than the original’s 5-millimeter width, he said.

“They brought interesting technology to bear, and we brought interesting technology to bear,” Gough said. “They seemed very aligned [with Adobe] around the idea that hardware drives software and software drives hardware in this virtuous cycle.”

Adobe debuted Mighty at its Max conference in May along with the Napoleon digital ruler, which also interacts with tablet software so people can create not just straight lines but also shapes and other figures. There’s no word on whether Adobe will sell Napoleon rulers too — unlike with Mighty, there’s not a ready supply of existing technology companies in the market.

The two new iPad apps are designed to take advantage of the hardware devices’ abilities. Parallel is a drafting app, and Contour is designed to capture shapes from people’s photos so they can be imported into Parallel. By releasing a software developer kit, Adobe expects others to build software that use the devices, Gough said.

“We’ll build communities around these apps and enable other people to make apps and services like [them],” Gough said.

Though Adobe’s devices can benefit from a Creative Cloud subscription, the company hasn’t worked out what to make freely available. Such devices will work better with the $50-per-month Creative Cloud subscription, though, and Adobe hopes to see others developing hardware that takes similar advantage, Gough said.

Pricing also remains undisclosed. Higher-end digitization technology is often priced for professionals — technology such as Wacom’s tablets — though that company seems interested in selling small tablets for creative types and has ventured into the tablet stylus market with the$99 Intuous Creative Stylus.

The Mighty has a variable-color LED opposite its drawing tip. It’ll change to communicate different information to the user, said Geoff Dowd, the project’s design leader. For example, occasional yellow pulses means the battery needs charging, blue means it’ll ready to be connected over Bluetooth, and a double pulse of color confirms that its user successfully used it to copy information to a virtual clipboard.

It comes with a protective sheath that also serves as a USB charger. It’s got an LED status light, too; it’ll cycle through the rainbow spectrum when the pen becomes fully charged.

 

Adobe revised its Napoleon digital ruler, paring it down to one button.

Adobe revised its Napoleon digital ruler, paring it down to one button

 

Adobe, the hardware company?
For much of the last two decades, many hardware and software companies were separate. Companies like Intel, Dell, and HP built the hardware; those like Microsoft, Adobe, and Red Hat handled the software. But the boundaries are blurring as more companies adopt both: Microsoft building its Surface and acquiring Nokia’s handset business, Google moving from making Android to selling Android phones, Samsung developing the Tizen OS.

The model many have in mind, of course, is Apple’s, where a single company profits handsomely by closely integrating the bits and the atoms to ensure everything works well together. But it’s actually more common than you might think in the overall computing industry: IBM has done it for decades with its servers, Cisco has likewise with network equipment, and storage companies like NetApp and EMC supply hardware and software.

Adobe, though, has a different model in mind.

It doesn’t want to become a hardware company — indeed, Gough made Adobe sound somewhat reluctant about the move. Instead, the idea behind Mighty and Napoleon is to prod the industry toward new styles of expression.

“We’re doing the minimum amount of hardware necessary to be a better software company, Gough said. “We have no intention of becoming a hardware company.”

The Adobe Mighty stylus

The Adobe Mighty stylus has a variable-color LED illumination system opposite its tip to convey information to its user.

 

Google Nexus 7 (2013) with 4G LTE hits Play Store in the US

google_nexus_7_new.jpg

 

 

Google’s latest Nexus 7 (2013) tablet with 4G LTE is now available through Google Play Store in US for $349 (Rs. 22,447 approximately).

Google announced the news on Twitter and also revealed that the Nexus 7 will come to T-Mobile stores in the U.S. next month. The tweet said, “Nexus 7 with 4G LTE is now available on Google Play in the US and is coming to US T-Mobile stores in October!” The new Nexus 7 LTE variant has arrived at the stores more than a month after the Wi-Fi variant of the Nexus 7 went on sale. Currently, the second-generation Nexus 7 comes with T-Mobile SIM. However, it comes unlocked that allows other carrier options on the tablet as well. However, there is no official word from Google on the device’s rollout to countries like India.

The search engine giant launched the second-generation Nexus 7 in July alongside the unveiling of the new Android 4.3 Jelly Bean platform.

The Nexus 7 (2013) comes with a 7-inch full-HD display (1920×1200 pixels), implying a boast-worthy pixel density of 323ppi. It also features scratch-resistant Corning glass. It is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor clocked at 1.5GHz, and features 2GB of RAM, apart from 32GB of inbuilt storage (with no SD card slot). The new Nexus 7 also features a 5-megapixel rear camera and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera.

Previously, the Nexus 7 (2013) was diagnosed with various issues, notably the erratic performance of multi-touch functionality on the tablet’s display. Google rolled out a firmware update for the Nexus 7 (2013), addressing many of these issues.

Apple considering iPhones with screens as big as 6-inches: Report

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All these years, Apple has ignored the big-screen smartphone segment which is now close to becoming a standard for Android devices and is ruled by players like Samsung. However, a new report indicates that this could change in the near future.

The Wall Street Journal says that Apple is considering a plan to offer big screen iPhones. The publication cites people familiar with the matter to report that the company is introspecting whether it should offer screens ranging from 4.8-inches to 6-inches on future iPhones. However, the report clarifies that the two iPhones expected to be unveiled next week, the iPhone 5S and the low-cost iPhone 5C would not sport bigger screens, and are expected to have 4-inch displays as seen on theiPhone 5.

Although, the company could just be testing some prototypes, as mobile component suppliers indicated that Apple had already started testing larger screens for iPhones in recent months, the company is more open to change now than in the past, according to the publication’s sources.

The sources further indicate that Apple has been particularly interested in a 4.8-inch screen, going by recent tests.

The report also confirms that Apple will launch the low-cost iPhone 5C with the premium iPhone 5S, in multiple colours and will begin shipping the two phones together. It also reiterates that the iPhone 5 successor will sport a fingerprint scanner. Apple is expected to unveil the new iPhone(s) at an event in Cupertino on September 10.

It’s not the first time that the Wall Street Journal has reported about Apple testing large screen iPhones. In July, the publication, which boasts of a pretty good record when it comes to rumours around the Cupertino giant, informed that the company was testing larger screens for iPhones and iPads. It cited officials at Apple’s suppliers to report that the company had asked them to supply prototype smartphone screens larger than 4-inches and screen designs for a new tablet measuring slightly less than 13-inches diagonally.

All these rumours do indicate that Apple has acknowledged that there’s demand for devices across all screen sizes. However, it’s difficult to predict if any of the new devices will eventually make it to the production line.

Apple’s biggest rival, the South Korean electronics giant, Samsung offers devices in a variety of screen sizes and form factors, with its flagship device, the Galaxy S4, also near about the 5-inch point.

Apple started offering a 4-inch iPhone, the iPhone 5, last year, increasing the screen size by 0.5-inch compared to the one seen on previous phones like the iPhone 4S (LINK)