iPad as game system: Is this the next step from the iPhone?

The iPad can play all of the App Store games and then some, but is a larger screen a benefit or a hindrance?

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR | Gaming | Metaverse technologies | Wearable tech | Tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read
Does a larger screen allow the iPad to grab a greater hold on gaming? James Martin/CNET

The iPod Touch and iPhone, defying many disbelievers, have, as a collective platform, succeeded in transforming gaming as much as they have transformed the smartphone industry. Low prices and a massive App Store library, it can be argued, helped the iPhone and iPod Touch out more than the platform's often better-than-expected graphics. We expected Apple gaming to take off, and indeed it has--in the portable space, at least.

The new Apple iPad hopes to take gaming even further, but the hurdles are higher this time. Everyone doesn't need a tablet, which is a significant challenge to iPad adoption. Millions of iPhone/Touch game players proliferated because millions of people need portable media players or phones, and found that it was easy and cheap to game on the same device they had in their pocket already. On the other hand, at $499, a 16GB iPad will have the same storage capacity as a PSP Go, which costs $249. Though the iPad lacks a memory card slot, its screen and battery life look to be far superior.

The good news is, the iPad looks set to run all App Store games, playing them in original resolution in a smaller window or doubling the pixels to full-screen mode on its 9.7-inch IPS screen. The iPad sports a custom A4 processor that should be much more robust than the iPhone/iPod Touch processor, which opens up potential for even more impressive iPad-specific titles.

With a nearly 10-inch screen, however, it could be argued that the tablet is really trying to overtake the TV as a primary source of gaming rather than the Nintendo DS and PSP. We expected that the iPad keynote would focus more on social games such as Farmville, making gaming more an adjunct to communication than high-end graphics, but the iPad does look capable--with its Wi-Fi and optional 3G antenna--of offering more PC-like game experiences with larger screens and submenus than its smaller iPhone cousins. The sky could be the limit for iPad development once developers learn to use the device, with the exception of one category of gaming: augmented reality. The iPad has no camera.

With a larger screen, however, comes a need for a different control scheme. A virtual control pad such as the ones that grace many, many iPhone games will be difficult to control on a larger-scale device in their current form, begging for a reoriented or redesigned virtual control pad. That might be a welcome development: virtual buttons could lurk on the sides instead of taking up nearly a third of iPod/iPhone screen real estate as they currently do. Gameloft's demo of its first-person shooter, NOVA, demonstrated its tap-to-aim system with ease, showing that faster games could find their way on the iPad with relative ease.

The only question is, does a 1.5-pound device present a portable game option that's no longer that portable? Would you prefer a pocket-size iPhone or iPod Touch instead, or an iPad? Or would you just use the iPad at home to play games? Would the iPad be a more interesting gaming purchase than a Netbook or a smartphone? Sound off below.