Not long after I got the original iPad in the summer of 2010, I remember thinking that it could be the future of mobile gaming. I knew it would take a while to find out, but it felt like that was a real possibility. As popular as Nintendo’s DS hardware was, this massive touchscreen tablet seemed destined to be the next thing to me. Apple’s App Store was already making major inroads into gaming, and there for a while, the iPad also did quite well. However, it never did live up to all its potential.
Eleven years later, the situation is much the same. Nintendo got smart and released a console that you can play anywhere and held its ground in the mobile gaming space. Unfortunately, Apple still seems content to hang around on the margins. They occasionally add features and talk about gaming, but I think they are happy to just keep ringing the cash register that is in-app payments on mediocre fremium titles. Apple Arcade gave me some hope, but even that effort hasn’t quite lived up to expectations yet. That is really unfortunate, because the new 12.9″ iPad Pro has tremendous potential as a gaming device.
It’s been a while since I really spent too much time playing games on iOS or iPadOS. I bought a Switch a few years ago and all of the mobile gaming I’ve done since has been on it. Frankly, I’ve been so busy with work and this site over the last two years that I did very little gaming outside of occasionally checking out the latest Apple Arcade titles. However, with the new iPad Pro’s combination of an upgraded screen and impressive horsepower, this seemed like a good time to check back in and see what’s out there.
My old SteelSeries Nimbus controller was a little worse for wear, so I stopped by BestBuy today and picked up the newer Nimbus+ for $69.99. I don’t think it quite matches up to the current-gen console controllers, but I don’t have any of them and it’s good enough for my purposes. I’m still mystified why Apple doesn’t support Nintendo’s Pro controller (which I DO have), along with those from Microsoft and Sony, but that’s a complaint for another day.
With controller in hand, I started playing some of the games that were still hanging around on my Pro. Some Crossy Road here. A little NBA Jam there, and a game of 2K19 (it was still installed on my older iPad Pro and restored to my new one last weekend). After a little Asphalt 8, my battery was almost done and I called it a night. However, not before downloading several new games, including the new NBA 2K21 Arcade, which I am looking forward to trying out tomorrow, along with a few other controller-oriented titles from Apple Arcade.
The games I tried were a pleasure to play. They all ran well, with no slowdowns or crashes. The controller worked (where supported) as it should with little to no lag. The games look great on the 12.9 Pro’s Liquid Retina XDR screen. It feels like this device could deliver a really high quality gaming experience in the hands of the right developers. However, I’m not sure if that will ever happen.
Even though the iPad Pro is capable of much more, it is often limited to mobile versions games with fewer features and modes. The iPad is still treated very much like the iPhone by most developers, and I think that’s because of how Apple positioned the iPad for so long. While I think the company has changed that positioning over the last four years, it hasn’t really carried over to devs quite yet, especially when it comes to gaming.
As fun as it was to play a game of NBA 2K19 with a Memphis Grizzlies team run by Mike Conley (who they are ironically playing against in the NBA Playoffs right now), I know this experience pales in comparison to what I could get on the current gen machines from Microsoft and Sony. The Switch versions of 2K may also have more features. Why isn’t Apple advocating for something different, or better yet, using Arcade to lead the way there, themselves?
While developers are in charge of creating their own wares, Apple still sets the tone and the messaging for its devices. If they really want devs to treat iPads as gaming powerhouses, then they need to share that vision with everyone. When they announced Apple Arcade, I had hope that they would use it to foster more serious, console quality titles for their platforms and push a grander vision for gaming on their platforms. There have been some great titles released on Apple Arcade, and I still believe it has the potential to push gaming forward a bit on iOS and iPadOS. However, Apple still hasn’t quite cracked the code to take it from a solid value at $4.99/month to a must-have gaming service. Between this and the inability for devs to make a profit selling games at reasonable prices, I imagine it’s hard for them to justify the expense of development.
A few months ago, Mark Gurman of Bloomberg talked about a potential new and far more powerful Apple TV that would be focused on gaming. This device was supposed to get the company into at least the fringes of the console market. Other rumors also said they would be subsidizing some top-tier paid titles from well-known studios to bolster this effort.
While I understand the lure of the set-top gaming market, I think Apple missed their shot to join that fray several years ago. I believe a better use of these same resources would be to focus them as much or more on the iPad, especially the iPad Pro. Apple doesn’t need new hardware to deliver a top notch gaming experience. I think they already have it. The question is whether they will do anything with it.
An even bigger opportunity for Apple to associate all of its devices with higher-end gaming is cloud streaming. Microsoft xCloud and Google Stadia give us the ability to run many of the latest and greatest titles on many different devices today, without having to convince developers to port them. I know how Apple sees this and how threatened they are by it. I also understand that these services are already available on iOS and iPadOS, or are on their way via the web.
However, the better option for Apple’s users is for the company to figure out a way to work with Microsoft and Google and get native cloud streaming apps approved and in the App Store. As much as I’m sure I will like playing NBA 2K21 Arcade on my iPad Pro, I would much rather play the full version console version any time I choose. If Apple really wants people think of its devices for gaming beyond simple mobile titles, opening up to cloud streaming services is the way to really change that perception overnight.
I will keep on playing and see if I can find any games that tax the M1 processor a little. If you have any questions related to gaming on the new iPad Pro, the SteelSeries Nimbus+, or anything else related to the new Pro, let me know in the Comments below or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.