Apple has dramatically increased the development cycle of gaming graphics, which Android is unlikely to match because of platform fragmented, causing game apps developers to focus on iOS. Guy Daniels reports.
Did Apple really increase the graphic performance of its iPad 2 by nine times that on the first iPad? According to Tim Sweeney, a principal developer at Epic Games, they certainly did. Sweeney co-developed Epic's Unreal Engine, which has been used in a series of 3D games over the past ten years, and was interviewed by Gizmodo.
Sweeney explains how traditional games consoles experience a 10-20 times leap in performance every 7 to 8 years – contrast that to Apple’s 9 times leap in just one year. And there’ a similar story with the iPhone, with the latest iPhone 4 featuring an A4 CPU that Sweeney says is roughly comparable to a single Xbox 360 core.
However, there are still a couple of problems with mobile gaming. The first is the graphics drivers, which Sweeney says are “not nearly as optimized as we'd like”, which is why one-on-one fighting games work better than multi-target shoot ‘em ups or driving games – fewer objects to render. Yet despite the use of OpenGL universal graphics drivers in mobile handsets, Sweeney maintains going this route is the best way in the long term, as gaming moves away from the PC to an increasing number of cloud devices.
The second problem is memory. Not the amount of memory – Sweeney says the iPad 2’s 512MB is “as much as the Xbox 360” – but being able to access that memory in a predictable way:
“We need X amount of memory available. Sometimes it works, sometimes you have to shut down other apps or reboot your phone. It's a massive problem."
Indeed, anyone trying to clock a respectable score on the popular Tiny Wings game on the iPhone needs to first restart the phone to avoid screen freezes at critical moments of the game (I still can’t get to the 28x multiplier, and I blame the phone!).
There is a third problem that looks like being the most serious for mobile games, and that concerns Android.
Sweeney explains to Gizmondo why his flagship title, ‘Infinity Blade’ is not available for the platform:
"When a consumer gets the phone and they wanna play a game that uses our technology, it's got to be a consistent experience, and we can't guarantee that [on Android]. That's what held us off of Android. If you took underlying Sony NGP hardware and shipped Android on it, you'd find far less performance on Android. Let's say you took an NGP phone and made four versions of it. Each one would give you a different amount of memory and performance based on the crap [the carriers] put on their phone. Google needs to be a little more evil. They need to be far more controlling."
Fortune magazine got hold of a new survey by Baird Research on Monday of 250 apps developers, which showed that 71 per cent of respondents were writing apps for Android against 62 per cent for iOS. However, the survey also flagged a number of problems that these developers are experiencing with the Android platform.
Looking at the statistics Fortune obtained (we have so far been unable to obtain the source research document), 87 per cent of Android developers see fragmentation as a problem. Only 14 per cent (yes, the numbers don’t quite tally) say “it’s not a problem”. And of the 87 per cent, 56 per cent said that operating system fragmentation among the various Android devices was “a huge problem.”
Other issues included Apps Store fragmentation, with Baird indicating that: "developers seem to prefer a unified, single store experience like Apple's App Store." App visibility was another concern, with Baird saying: "iOS continues to lead, followed by Blackberry, with Android still receiving poor marks in this category," adding that developers are particularly concerned about the level of ‘junk’ apps in the Android ecosystem. Ease of development was also cited as a concern, with iOS outscoring Android – but both were considered far easier to develop for than BlackBerry or Symbian.
Oh yes, and money. The surveyed developers said it was far easier to get paid for iOS apps, followed by BlackBerry, with Android trailing in third place. Maddi Hausmann Sojourner of Android Headlines gives more background to the fragmentation issue:
“Just for a sanity check here, very few devices are still running Android OS 1.5 or 1.6. But with the release of Android OS 3.0 (Honeycomb), which is optimized for tablets, the fragmentation issue is much more on developers’ minds. Apps written for Android 1.x or 2.x don’t look that great on a tablet and can’t take advantage of the navigation features of Honeycomb.”
And that’s just OS fragmentation – hardware fragmentation wasn’t covered by the Baird report. Two Android handsets running the same OS can be using different chipsets or different displays. For developers, that means a heap more work required to ensure their apps work on all devices, let alone have a consistent feel.
Which probably explains why Google issued a warning to carriers and device manufacturers last week, beautifully interpreted by BusinessWeek as “no more willy-nilly tweaks to the software”. Listen carefully – is that the sound of (tightly controlled, closed system) laughter coming from the top floor at Cupertino?
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