Gaming got a bit of a spotlight at yesterday's WWDC keynote, and though Apple spent just as much of the show talking about Mac as it did iOS, there are a lot of big implications for mobile.
The biggest announcement for gamers at WWDC 2012 was cross-platform Game Center. Letting Mac owners play with iPhone and iPad owners is a huge step to legitimizing mobile gaming in the eyes of traditional gamers, but Apple is hardly the first one to make this kind of move; Microsoft has been pushing the Xbox brand hard on Windows Phone, except instead of bridging the gap to PC, it's to console. We've seen plenty of games bubble up from iOS to desktop, but it won't be long before iPad and iPhone hardware will be powerful enough to allow simple migration of games from Mac, especially if cloud gaming enters into the picture.
There are a few smaller Game Center updates in iOS 6, including challenges, so you can taunt your buddies into beating your high scores, for example. There's also a new in-app Game Center experience that was mentioned in one slide, but not elaborated upon - presumably, it will allow players to at least check which of their friends have the game without being booted out of the app. Even more vague was a mention of "game groups", which I can only assume means linking a bunch of friends together so they can hop between games en masse.
Pushing Retina resolution
The new MacBook Pro features a Retina-grade display, and Apple promised that Diablo III would be updated with appropriately razor-sharp graphics. The technical marvel of this screen stands firmly on the shoulders of the new iPad, which until now was the largest Retina display available. The new iPad on its own wasn't enough to get anyone outside of the iOS development sphere to start considering insanely high-def resolutions, but the new Mac Pro will. That pressure to support Retina resolution on OS X is ultimately good news for iOS, as there will be more developers with assets suitable for the new iPad. While we aren't expecting a huge leap in resolution for the iPhone 5, it is likely to have a bigger screen.
The main thing about Retina is that it enables scalability; if an app is big enough, it can be crunched down to the small screen, but be rich enough to not look like crap on the big screen. At this point, Apple need only offer a proper TV set that can fully make use of the post-1080p experiences that they're enabling, but unfortunately that's one of the many things we didn't get out of WWDC.
The WWDC keynote also introduced some additional AirPlay options for Mac, enabling full screens to be wirelessly reproduced on a TV, pixel-for-pixel. Though iOS has had this for over a year now, the new Mac feature effectively allows the two to flank TV and converge on Apple TV. Additionally, it sets the stage for AirPlay between Mac and iOS, which is something we've already seen on the audio side from some clever developers.
Ultimately, it's easy to imagine being able to access a live stream of your Mac on your iPad over AirPlay - a tantalizing prospect for anyone into cloud gaming. At first, that could be limited to local Wi-Fi networks, but eventually, who's to say that you won't be able to tap in from outside Wi-Fi networks, or cellular networks provided ample bandwidth? Third parties like Splashtop are already doing this kind of thing, but once Apple steps in and offers the same functionality out of the box, those guys will have to find something new to offer - maybe hosted solutions.
If that is indeed the path that Apple is taking, AirPlay on Mac is just the beginning. For whatever technical limitations the iPhone and iPad may have, if Apple can provide a high-quality, seamless AirPlay experience back to a computer that can handle the heavy lifting, games on iOS stand to get a whole lot better. Diablo III on iPad, anyone?
If there's a single common thread for the relationship between gaming and iOS 6, it's Mac. AirPlay will enable both Macs and iOS devices to start taking tenuous steps towards competing with console and PC gaming; Retina-grade displays will push developers to meet a new bar in graphics (not to mention blow the minds of players); a smart Game Center strategy will create a unified social environment for all of this gaming to take place. iOS 6 is just in beta, so we may very well see a few more surprises before the iPhone 5 launches in the fall, but for now, the future is bright for iOS gamers.
Gamers, what do you feel is currently lacking the most in iOS titles? Is the onus on Apple to enable developers to fill those gaps, or do devs already have their hands full trying to get their games up to Retina quality, nevermind extra stuff like AirPlay?
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