I’ve never been much of a gadget person. My current phone, for one extreme example, is five and a half years old. I’ve been on top of trends and I know what’s going on in the hardware space, but my primary interest is in software. More specifically speaking, media players and entertainment software. Games. 95% of my gadget purchases are pretty much dictated by this, which is why I have every game console released in North America since about 1997. This is the point of view I take to the recent iPad hubbub.
The only reason that I have an iPod Touch is because it came with the MacBook when I bought it, but I’m glad I do since it turned out to be a decent game device with some, amidst the sea of junk, quality games. The lack of any tactile input does hurt it when it comes to the kind of games I know and love, but for more casual fare the machine performs admirably. The developers that need more precise input have managed with virtual joystick and button setups, some better implemented than others. These generally work because the iPhone’s form factor is not all that different from the kind of ergonomics we’ve had since Nintendo released its controller in 1985. It works because it’s stable. The machine rests between two hands, supported by back fingers, while the thumbs are free, in their natural position, to press things. This is also the form you use when typing with the soft keyboard (or, even, your Blackberry.) It works.
It’s great that the iPad is backwards compatible with all the Apps that are out there and all those games that you’ve bought, but I look at its size and weight and wonder how that form factor will affect all those many games. Can you imagine playing a game on your Playstation with a controller that’s seven and a half inches wide and weighs 1.6 pounds (about 3 times wider and 5 times heavier than the iPhone)? I can’t, and I’ve used one of those massive original XBox controllers. This, as a gamer, is the most glaring problem with the iPad.
And since I started writing this Kotaku has posted a hands-on impression that basically echoes these thoughts and a piece on a gamer’s doubts about the device. Also a gamasutra piece. So I’ll leave the thoughts at that.
All told, though, I do hope that this change in ergonomics, making the virtual d-pad awkward, forces developers to really think about the interface, slow down their game designs, and make something nice for this specific platform. Too many rely on old conventions dating back to 1985. When someone does, that’s when I’ll consider the device worth my investment. Maybe a nice, original strategy game. One that can also work on the iPod Touch too. I’d buy it. That gadget works well enough already.