The Speed of Things

First, a prediction. This generation of hand-held consoles will be the last.1

How can the multi-year spans between console releases compare to the yearly improvements of devices like the iPhone and iPad? Apple claims that the iPad 2 is 9x more powerful than it’s predecessor. In benchmark testing Anandtech confirms – yeah pretty much.

While it’s early in the life of both the iPhone and iPad, it’s hard to imagine that future incarnations would not continue this increase in graphical prowess.2

Year after year the iOS devices continue to improve while companies like Sony and Nintendo are in a cycle of releasing a device and then supporting it for a few years. The DS was released in 2004 and just this month is being replaced by its successor, the 3DS. The PSP has also been around a while with an original release in 2005. Its successor, the Next Generation Portable or NGP, is planned for a late 2011 release.3

According to this article from Business Insider the iPad 2 is “equal to NGP in terms of raw graphical horsepower”. Wait, that can’t be right. Sony’s much heralded next-generation portable that won’t be released until November is only equal to a device that is in consumer’s hands right now?

I’m not trying to over-emphasize graphics, there are many other factors when it comes to an enjoyable gaming experience. You can ding the iPad for lack of physical controls or the DS for not having many mature games. While smart intelligent readers such as yourself realize this, there are tons of consoles bought due to graphical fidelity over gameplay or library selection.

The genesis of this post came to me while laying in bed this evening. I was playing Real Racing 2 on my iPhone 3GS and was struck by a few things. 1) How well this game looked on a 2-year-old phone. 2) How smoothly it ran – no stuttering and load times were all but nonexistent. 3) How well the controls worked on a device without buttons.4

Next to me were a Nintendo DS and a Sony PSP, both loaded with a few top-notch games. Yet, here I was playing a racing game on my cell phone – a game that was about $25 cheaper than similar titles on its console brethren.

So the iPad 2 is as fast as the NGP, which won’t ship for another 9 months and the old cycle of developing a console and waiting a few years to improve is dead. Or dying. Develop, a website about game development noted that next-gen handheld console budgets have tripled. How much are the games going to cost? $50!?

I’ve been able to play the same games over the last 4 generations of iOS devices with out a hitch. In some cases the games are even improved on newer hardware. Meanwhile DS games are fuzzy on the new 3DS and all of my UMD games for the PSP will have to be re-purchased when the NGP is released. :-/

From one perspective, not only are the graphics a huge win, but also the financial and vitality aspects of this new breed of gaming devices.

Photo by sneeu – Licensed under Creative Commons

  1. This is a bit toungue-in-cheek. I loathe predictions of the end of something. As though all previous incarnations will cease to exist in a puff of smoke.

  2. There was a marked increase between the 3G and 3GS in terms of horsepower waaay back in 08. Not to mention the setup up to the retina display of the iPhone 4.

  3. Maybe this is why Sony is not only releasing a successor to the PSP, but also the Ericsson Xperia Playstation branded smart phone. They’re no dummies and are hedging their bets that the concept of a game-only device is not the future.

  4. Maybe I suck at racing games in general, but I was surprised to find myself actually winning races this go round! Also, no controller to blame when you drive off the track do to your ineptitude. 🙂