That annual indecision of whether or not we should upgrade our iPhones is upon us. Carriers strong-arm you into new contracts, the feature-rich iOS 5 blunts the allure of some of iPhone 4S’ capabilities and there’s always the threat that an iPhone 5 is right around the corner (for real this time). Worst of all, you can’t let someone else determine your iPhone fate for you; asking for an one as a gift is impossible. The carriers have you personally tied down to that two-year contract so well that you end up getting a gift card from a loved one. Kind of a lame present to open. So, your only solution is to weigh your options carefully.
Luckily for gamers, iPhone 4S has the hardware to back up its hype.
7X The Graphics Speed
There’s no more mind-blowing iPhone 4S stat than the speed of the graphics: seven times faster than the already-impressive iPhone 4. The Apple-designed A5 chip’s “seven times” figure pretty much sends Moore’s Law into a tizzy. To illustrate the impact, Apple had Epic Games President Mike Capps and Chair Entertainment creative director Donald Mustard do a stage demo of Infinity Blade II, the sequel to the first game to use the Unreal 3 engine of iOS.
“Infinity Blade I concentrated on incredibly detailed and lifelike character animation” said Mustard. “But now with the power of the A5, we can bring that detail to the rest of the environment with fireflies dancing in the air, leaves blowing in the wind, the reflections in the water. We even have coy swimming in the pond.” This last example was met with applause.
Capps stressed that everything in the stage demo for this action RPG game was running in real-time and not rendered. Then he made a point to name-drop Gears of War 3, saying that the dynamic rays lighting effects seen in the Xbox 360 game are new to the Unreal 3 engine and already appear on this iOS game. Finally, Capps ended the presentation with the sales pitch: “It’s only going to run like this on an iPhone 4S. Why? Because it’s awesome.” That means Infinity Blade II will be available for all currently supported iOS devices when it launches on December 1, but some of the more “immersive” details are going to be iPhone 4S-exclusive.
Double the CPU Task Speed
In addition to looking sharper, your iPhone 4S and dual-core A5 will run at twice the processing speed of the iPhone 4. This means that CPU tasks will get a speed boost, putting the new iPhone model in line with similarly A5-equipped iPad 2. In other words, opening up Safari windows will be quicker, launching game apps won’t take as long and, of course, bringing up the G4 iPhone app will happen in half the time.
“Pages load quicker. Gameplay is better. And everything just feels faster,” reads Apple’s website under the “Performance” tab. So, just as the new GPU speeds the graphics up sevenfold, having a second core working tasks is going to double the gameplay response time. Thinking back to the iPhone 3G, there was nothing more annoying than having gameplay become choppy or your keyboard freeze in the middle of sending a text, as if you jammed an old-fashioned typewriter.
Once upon a time, I bought a cheap pair of RCA cables with a 30-pin connector on the other end in an effort to review iPhone 3G games on my television. With a blank HDTV screen, the sound of muffled audio coming out of the speakers and a puzzled look on my face, I realized that this was a failed $10 experiment. Needless to say, I didn’t opt for the $40 component cables, expecting the same results. YouTube, recorded video and photo slideshows worked, and iPhone 4 users have reported having success with the Netflix app, but those aren’t the apps that I’m after as an avid mobile gamer.
The introduction of AirPlay Mirroring finally makes beaming your iPhone screen to a larger TV possible, and it’s all done wirelessly through an Apple TV. That means you’ll need an Apple TV to make this iOS 5 function work, putting the price at $99. That’s more than double what the app-limited component cables cost. But if you were going to sink $40 into the cables already and can get any use out of Apple TV’s other streaming functions (iTunes content, Netflix), then the extra cost may not be that big of a deal. More importantly as a gamer, if you wish the power of Super Game Boy came to the iPhone, then AirPlay represents the smoothest, easy-to-setup solution. Being able to toss those worthless RCA cables in the trash is an added benefit.
Two Antennas for Twice the Speed
Determined to avoid a repeat of Antenna-gate as much as Microsoft never wants to hear the words “Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death” again, Apple put two antennas into the iPhone 4S. So if you put a death grip on the phone because you’re really, really fearful of dropping its all-glass body, it’ll switch to the antenna that gets the best performance. This makes call quality clearer and maximum data speeds twice as fast. The iPhone maxed out at 7.2 Mbps, while the 4S extends the limit to 14.4 Mbps. That’s 100x the speed of my first modem on a Windows 3.1-powered desktop PC. Now if we could only find a US-based carrier to fully support this HSDPA speed.
A gamers’ benefit to this maximum speed boost comes in the form of multiple downloads that are under the 20 MB limit. Every time a game updates, you have to redownload the app, so at 10 app updates a day, that can eat away at serious gameplay time. Birds can’t get their revenge on Pigs and Jetpacks won’t propel across the screen if you’re busy installing new updates on a single-antenna 3G phone. Of course, this would be even more convenient if there wasn’t a 20 MB cap over 3G. The aforementionedInfinity Blade I is 594 MB, Rage HD is 579 MB and even Guitar Hero and its scant six songs is 122 MB. Every time there’s a fix for one of these games, WiFi or iTunes updates are the only option. Maybe with all of this newfound bandwidth, carriers will lift the limit? I wouldn’t even hold my breath for an increase to 21 MB, sadly.
Time Savers To Get Back To Gaming
There’s been no more talked about feature for iPhone 4S than Siri, the personal assistant-like technology that responds to your voice commands. That’s because it’s impossible to really imagine all of the possibilities of this 4S-exclusive feature. There are multiple ways in which you can ask Siri to set a reminder, schedule a calendar event, send a text message (especially when in the car), check the weather, search Wikipedia, get directions, dictate email and notes... the list goes on.
This “virtual assistant” of sorts can help you outsource some of the time-consuming tasks of your day and focus on gaming. No more wading through multiple menus to hunt for a contact who you want to message or to type out restaurant specifications in the Yelp app. Siri does it for you. What’s even more fascinating is imagining the possibilities if Apple opens this technology up to third-party app developers. Just as Facebook’s Developer Platform turned the social network into a treasure trove of useful app ideas, the same rush of app innovation could happen in a future iOS update. Kinect-like gaming for iPhone would be more meaningful on this mobile device than Xbox 360 simply because the iPhone has a limited touchscreen. Anything that adds a new input to the small screen would be a welcomed addition.
Besides implementing Siri, the new iPhone hardware uses a superior eight megapixel camera and an fifth lens. This is up from the five megapixel resolution and four lenses that are found in the iPhone 4. Likewise, the video camera received an upgrade from 720p to 1080p 30fps HD video. All of these bumped up specs mean that you’ll be less worried about setting up the perfect shot. Instead, you can go back to being more worried about earning Achievements in Game Center.
Where Does the #1 Portable Gaming Platform Go From Here?
The iPhone 4S doesn’t look different on the outside, but that shouldn't matter to mobile gamers. Under-the-hood improvements to the CPU and GPU mean that developers now have more resource room when developing iOS games. Epic Games and Chair Entertainment are just the first game companies to show off the advantages of the A5 and promise exclusive visual detail. As time goes on, those exclusive visual details are going to turn into A5 exclusive games. In fact, it has already begun. Rockstar Games just announced that Grand Theft Auto III is coming to iPhone 4S and iPad 2. So if you want to celebrate GTA III’s 10th Anniversary in style, you’re going to have to come up with the cash to upgrade your iPhone very quickly. And, no, the GTA III money cheat code “R2, R2, L1, L1, Left, Down, Right, Up, Left, Down, Right, Up” doesn’t work in real life. We already tried it.
Matt Swider has been writing about video games for 12 years. Now based in Los Angeles, he is actively expanding GamingTarget.com and his freelance opportunities.