Why AirPlay is the Next Big Thing

Written by David Frampton @ 12:14 am, August 27, 2011

So I’ve mentioned a few times on twitter how I think AirPlay will change everything. In particular it has the potential to make huge waves in the gaming world, and take a big bite out of the console market.

In case you’re not sure what AirPlay is, or what is changing, AirPlay is a feature that allows streaming of content from an iPad or iPhone to a TV via an AppleTV. In the soon to be released iOS 5 there is now the ability to mirror anything on the display to a TV. It also allows developers to display game content (or any other content) on the TV, while displaying controller buttons (or any other content) on the device itself. This particular feature is iPad 2 only at present, but it is the game changer.

There are many who agree, but also many who don’t, and after seeing a few of his tweets I asked @michelboutros to explain himself, and he kindly did so here. I don’t want to pick on Michael, he’s just given a good summary of pretty much every argument I’ve seen against AirPlay – why AirPlay will be a bad way to play games, and why game consoles will still be the dominant gaming force in the living room.

So I’ll address his arguments one by one.

Cost

I saw this a lot with the remote control feature in Chopper 2. “So I have to buy both an iPad and an iPhone, that’s like a billion dollars! I can buy a PS3 for a fraction of that!”. The fact is though, that most people who have an iPad, also have an iPhone. People may buy consoles to play games, but they buy iPhones to be phones. They buy Apple TVs to watch content (though this will change), and they buy routers to route packets. If you combine all of the stuff that people already have into a game console, you’re not costing them a billion dollars, you’re saving them the price of a dedicated console.

As time goes on and AirPlay becomes more widely adopted the cost will lower too. All routers – even the cheap ones – will be expected to support Bonjour out of the box. And TVs may even come with AirPlay built in, so you may not even have to buy an AppleTV. The router needn’t even be a part of the equation, as there is no technical reason an AppleTV couldn’t just create its own Ad Hoc network for devices to connect to.

Graphics performance

A common argument against iOS devices being suitable for ‘real gaming’ is that the devices themselves are not capable of delivering the same quality graphics as the consoles. Firstly, the Wii proved that having the highest quality graphics is not a prerequisite for a gaming platform to succeed. Most gamers don’t care too much whether a monster is made out of 1000 polygons or 100000 polygons. It’s just not that big a deal.

But I would also argue that the iPad 2, and no doubt the iPhone 5 (which will almost certainly feature AirPlay) are already pretty competitive. They are ‘good enough’ already, and though an XBox or PS3 can push more polygons, and run more complicated shaders, programmers are pretty good at making the most out of what they have available.

The argument that Michael makes about the retina iPad requiring games to push 2048×1536 simply isn’t true. Regardless of the screen resolution of the device, a game can simply render as many or as few pixels as it likes, and output at the native resolution of the TV.

Latency

I’ve played a few games over AirPlay, and have just finished working on an update to Chopper 2 to improve AirPlay compatibility. It’s not perfect. There is a small delay, and the frame rate isn’t quite as smooth as what comes out of a console. But it’s pretty damn good. I was blown away by the lack of latency really, it’s comparable to the latency when using an iPhone to control Chopper 2 on an iPad. Just like with the graphics performance issue, it’s ‘good enough’ for most games, and will only get better from here.

The Controller

This is perhaps the largest roadblock for iOS when it comes to competing with the console, and is probably the largest factor I think that will save the console from certain doom. (Another large factor is unique hardware like the Kinect, which will ensure consoles still have a place in the living room for a while yet).

I do agree that there are games for which a touch screen and accelerometer/gyro just aren’t the right fit. And the ones that come to mind are the First Person Shooter type games, where you need to control both aim and movement with high fidelity.

The FPS might stay firmly rooted in the console/PC world, or we might see innovations that allow it to come to iOS. Perhaps third party hardware makers or even Apple themselves might release accessories that make first person shooters easier to control on iOS. Or perhaps touch screens will evolve to provide programmable tactile feedback.

But again I think of the Wii, which has got to put a huge amount of its success down to the uniqueness of its control system. On the iPhone, entire genres have appeared that would have been tedious to play with a console controller. Flight Control is a prime example. Even the likes of Angry Birds or Doodle Jump took off in part because they suited the available controls so well.

Multiplayer gaming is going to be huge over AirPlay with the iPhone 5. It won’t be long before everyone has a game console/controller in their pocket. Card or board games immediately come to mind, but there are just so many possibilities when you put a handful of people in a room with an AppleTV and their own controllers and game collections.

Developers are itching to come up with a plethora of ways to use the iPhone and iPad as wireless controllers for games displayed on TVs. The swarm of developers already creating games for stand alone iOS devices are just waiting for the next big thing … and this is it.









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