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11 Sep 2013

Apple’s iPhone 5S: What Does it Mean For Gaming and Development?

The saying goes that the only two things guaranteed in life are death and taxes, but that isn’t necessarily the case anymore. In our industry, we’re also guaranteed an annual Call of Duty title, a new Madden, and of course, an annual announcement from Apple in which they showcase their latest mobile device. This year, it’s time for another iPhone by way of the iPhone 5S, yet it isn’t just a slight upgrade: on the contrary. Whether you’re an iPhone fan or a dedicated Android follower like myself, you have to be impressed with what Apple showcased yesterday.

Sure, the iPhone 5S looks sexy – most Apple devices do. Yet what is most interesting is the iPhone 5S contains Apple’s A7 chip (an ARM chip), which has a 64-bit architecture. Twice as fast as the iPhone 5 and a whopping 42 times faster than the original iPhone, Apple’s smartphone has certainly come a long way since the original iPhone was displayed in Summer 2007.

Certainly, a 64-bit architecture means nothing in terms of speed if the device doesn’t have enough RAM to run the device properly, and while Apple hasn’t announced how much RAM is in the iPhone 5S, one thing is certain: they are preparing for the day in which future generations of the iPhone have a ton of RAM. Including a 64-bit architecture is a smart move, and by transitioning to it early on, it allows developers to begin transitioning their apps to a 64-bit architecture as well, thus ensuring that when the time comes for the iPhone to use a substantial amount of RAM, every major app on the app store can take advantage of it.

It’s also worth noting and transitioning apps from a 32-bit architecture to a 64-bit architecture is fairly painless. Donald Mustard from Epic Games, the company behind the Infinity Blade franchise stated this week that compiling the game to 64-bit took about two hours. Thus, Apple is making this process simple, which is great news for not only independent developers, but all app developers overall.

So what will a 64-bit architecture and the future increase in RAM built into upcoming iPhone models mean for independent developers and mobile gaming as a whole? A few things, really:


Backwards Compatibility

Let’s face it: not every independent developer is going to transition each of their games to a 64-bit architecture. By the time we begin to see the iPhone’s 64-bit architecture put into action by way of an increased amount of RAM in future devices, many developers may have older games that are simply not selling well anymore, to which they may opt to not make the transition. Some independent devs may simply have too many games or too many older games, but whatever the case may be, know that your apps will still work.


Significantly Improved Graphics

Apple’s A7 chip supports ARMv8 and the OpenGL ES Version 3.0 graphics standard, so what does this mean? In-game graphics on future iPhone devices will be vastly improved. Of course, this is a given as games’ graphics have continued to improve with each iteration of the iPhone. However, we may be seeing PS3/Xbox 360-caliber graphics on our iOS devices sooner rather than later thanks to Apple’s transition into the 64-bit realm. As stated, once future iPhone devices increase in memory, developing graphically demanding games for iOS is going to be reality.

Plus, imagine how incredible these games will look once Apple begins to release iPad models with a 64-bit architecture and A7 chip: these games are going to look stunning!


Quick ‘Battery Drains’ Become a Thing of the Past

I stated I’m an Android guy, but that was halfway true: when it comes to tablets, I have to own an iPad. It’s one of my go-to devices when gaming on the go, yet what I hate the most is the battery life as it isn’t that great. Like most people, when I get heavily invested in a game, I’m playing it until I cannot play anymore, and with the battery life not being as strong as it should be for some of the iOS’ most compelling games, I have to either be next to a power outlet while my iPad charges as I play or I have to play until the battery dies. Each option isn’t attractive, but in future iOS devices, batteries will lose their charge less quickly than they do now.

Because the iPhone 5S and future generations of iOS devices will include an M7 co-processor, which is responsible for taking care of sensor data processing and allowing apps that are motion-sensing and voice-recognition-based to function properly without draining the battery quickly. Moreover, the available processing power will not decrease as well, as the tasks responsible for running an app will be offloaded to another processor in an effort to save battery life and performance.

Here’s an example: when you are playing a game on your iOS device, you will probably notice that the battery dies faster than when you are using your iOS device to casually surf the web. Moreover, you will also notice that at some points, the game may take a little longer to load or even have a graphical ‘hiccup’ from time to time as you play the game. Because iPhone 5S and iOS devices in the future will contain a co-processor, one processor isn’t responsible for the performance of the device. Instead, it’s divided among the co-processor, allowing the device to operate as the developer intended without placing all of the responsibility on one processor. It’s the same logic behind why your foot becomes tired much more quickly if you stand on one leg, thus placing the responsibility of holding all of your weight on one leg. Once you stand on two legs however, the fatigue you experience quickly goes away.

With that being said, independent developers do not have to develop their games with the fear of knowing they may drain the battery, as future iPhone models will ensure battery drain occurs much more slowly.


Independent Developers Have Less Limits

Games look and function beautifully on iOS devices today, yet mobile gaming hasn’t come close to realizing its full potential. Apple’s decision to provide the iPhone 5S and future iterations of the device with a 64-bit architecture is possibly the start of a new era in mobile gaming (as you know Android devices are certainly going to transition to a 64-bit architecture sooner than later). Of course, games will have improved graphics down the line – that’s a given – but with the added processing power that will be included in future mobile devices, independent devs will be much less limited than they are now.

We’ll be seeing more complex games in the future as well; games that run many different calculations and actions simultaneously. Moreover, independent devs will be able to make the games they desire that properly takes advantage of touch-screen capabilities, voice recognition, and so on. Sure, independent developers are currently creating unique experiences and games on mobile platforms, but with the inclusion of a 64-bit architecture and A7’s support for ARM, independent devs will be able to create games that operate as complex as they need them to. The sky, for the moment anyway, is truly the limit for independent devs, and it’s certainly an exciting time to be developing mobile games.

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