With the release of the Apple iPad we thought we would break a bit from our usual gaming coverage to give a gamer’s eye review of the new tablet. We have had the iPad since Saturday (3APR10) and have been using it quite a bit. So we have had time to find most of its faults and enjoy its benefits.
We will not repeat what you can read in a hundred other iPad reviews by now. Suffice it to say the hardware is gorgeous, the display vibrant, the performance amazing, and the battery life really is 10 hours (if not more). The WiFi-only model is available now and the 3G model will be available at the end of April. But what does the iPad mean to you as a gamer? Well it has a number of applications (no pun intended), some obvious and some not so obvious.
Games: The most obvious gaming application of course is using the iPad to actually play games. There are already dozens of games available (thousands if you count the iPhone/Touch versions). The larger size, power, and Multi-Touch capabilities of the iPad make for a great gaming machine. The iPad is most suited to casual games but racing games and even first-person shooters run equally well. We can’t wait for the first real wargame to get developed for the iPad. The closest so far is certainly Command & Conquer Red Alert. We also recommend FlightControl HD, Warpgate HD, Fieldrunners, and Modern Combat HD.
Game Aides: A somewhat new breed of application has started to become popular on the iPhone, the game support app. Game aides will be easier to use and much more feature rich on the iPad. This includes things such as die rollers but also more involved applications that help with combat odds and even army creation. There are a handful of Warhammer 40K related apps for the iPhone now (such as Mathhammer and 40K QR) and, no doubt, Lone Wolf is hard at work on an iPad version of Army Builder. So, for example, the folks over at Amarillo Design Bureau could develop (or allow someone else to) an application that lets players have the Federation Commander SSDs on the iPad where they could mark damage, power, etc. during the game. Flipping between multiple SSDs would be easy and it would allow for quicker setup and less clutter. You can also use many applications (such as Apple’s Pages) to create and edit files directly so you can use the iPad for updating status sheets and the like during a game. Again, this speeds setup and reduces clutter on the table. We suspect iPad-based game aides will become more popular and more widely available over the coming months and years.
Game Reference: For years gamers have been using laptops and, more recently, iPhones and netbooks to access rules and other game support items while playing games. The iPad is uniquely suited to this task. It is much larger than the iPhone so you can easily read a full game manual on it yet it is also much less intrusive and clunky than a laptop (not to mention the superior battery life). You can load PDF and Word docs on the iPad for rules and reference (Goodreader is a great PDF/file viewer for the iPad). The iPad displays full-color of course so even if you do not have access to a color printer (or wish not to burn ink/toner) you can enjoy rules in all their glory. GMT Games is especially good about providing the rules for their games in updated PDF versions. Hopefully the pressure will build on other game companies to do the same. Boardgame Geek is also a great resource for play aides for most board games.
Game Reading/Entertainment: You can use the built-in Safari Web browser to check out your favorite sites. One of the first things we did with the iPad was go check out www.ViewfromtheTurret.com! The site looks great on the iPad and is perfectly readable — The same goes for most other gaming sites. Of course the iPad also does audio and video exceptionally well so you can enjoy your favorite gaming podcasts — Who can’t get enough D6 Generation or 40K Radio?! PDF magazines such as Lock ‘n Load Publishing’s Line of Fire magazine not to mention fanzines such as 40K Radio’s Freebootaz magazine begin to get even more practical. Moreover, the iPad already has a number of magazine applications available not to mention the iBooks app and bookstore (you can also import any .ePub files through iTunes into iBooks). The size, color, and interactivity of the iPad will allow for some great gaming magazines. Imagine a publication with the lushishness of White Dwarf mixed with video and other interactive features. Gamers are already generally overloaded when they travel not to mention they usually have shelves even more overloaded with material at home. Moving more publications to the iPad would help all around. Historical gamers may also appreciate the ability to have various historical references at hand while gaming. Think how fun it could be to have various maps of a battle readily available to compare to your own game while playing. The ability to curl up with the iPad and easily pass it around for sharing make ePublications more usable, practical, and viable than ever before.
All New Paradigms: The combination of portability, power, and remote connectivity (whether WiFi or 3G) could very well lead to the development of all new gaming applications. Do you play games solitaire? What if your favorite game had an app that allowed a remote player to play a game with you? Something like VASSAL comes to mind but even a new breed of apps that integrate with miniature games to track movement and combat are certainly possible. Apps combined with voice (think Skype) could bring gamers together. Connectivity, including Bluetooth, also opens up options for communication between devices that could make for some great opportunities to handle hidden units and fog of war during a game. The possibilities are endless.
All is not wonderful with the iPad of course. It is a 1.0 product and has its share of faults and rough edges. Perhaps the two most glaring problem areas are file management and printing.
File management on the iPad certainly needs improvement. The iPad currently cannot multi-task and apps generally cannot talk to each other. There is also no general file system or general shared storage of any kind. All file management is done from each individual application. This means if you want to read the PDF rules for Combat Commander you are going to need to fire up a PDF viewing app, fetch the file and then read it. Want to read the file in another app? Well you’ll need to repeat the process; you cannot just move/send or open the same file from another app (there are a few exceptions) on the iPad. This situation gets worse when you start editing documents. Start a new document in Pages and you’ll need to send it via email or some other means to get it onto your computer. Getting it back is another fetch operation. Some applications let you load files into them via iTunes but again you need to load files into each app, there is no sharing and there is no syncing or versioning.
There is no native printing capability on the iPad. This would generally not be expected with a mobile device but the document creation capabilities certainly make the expectation not unreasonable. In addition, the poor file management also leads you to want to print sometimes just to get a document off the device. There are some third-party printing applications but it does not make for a smooth process by any means.
Apple announced iPhone OS 4.0 on April 8th and it will be coming to the iPad in the Fall. It introduces multi-tasking and the new iAd service may make gaming apps and publications more financially viable.
Overall the iPad exceeds almost all expectations. If you have not seen it for yourself go to your local Apple Store or Best Buy and check it out. The iPad is even more impressive in person than it is in any photo or video. It will be exciting to see the device’s impact on gaming (along with all of the other non-Apple tablet devices to come).
The This Week in Wargaming podcast, Episode 11, includes a discussion of the iPad. It is a round table with Ken Whitehurst, Troy McCauley and Russ Wakelin. Overall it is an interesting discussion but none of them own an iPad (yet) and only Troy had spent real time with one so they end up with some minor mistakes and mis-perceptions in a few areas. Forward to 10min 30sec in to get right to the discussion.
Also see The Apple iPad and Gaming — A Look Back.