Earlier this week, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, unveiled the iPad mini, an entirely new 7.9" version of the company’s popular tablet. With each iteration of iOS devices, game developers face new opportunities and challenges as Apple unveils products with new internals like CPUs and display resolutions.
In the wake of the announcement, Polygon spoke with several iOS developers to get their reactions on the new device, the possible drawbacks of a ever-more fragmented iOS device ecosystem, and satisfying customers across a broad range of devices.
Melvin Samuel of Halfbot, developers of The Blocks Cometh, Super Crate Box and I Don’t Come in Peace, told Polygon that each new device forces trade-offs for the small company.
"One of the great things about developing for iOS early on was that you could make a build once, send it out and it worked," Samuel said. "Now to satisfy all iOS customers you essentially tied to creating a game that runs on multiple processors and with 5 different resolutions. This makes developing for iOS harder than it has ever been and more costly due to the time it takes to make it all run smoothly across the board. Small developers like ourselves have to draw a line in the sand and stop supporting certain devices. That’s unfortunate because we are loosing some great customers because we are being spread so thin."
"Slowly but surely it is becoming more of a challenge, yes."
Louis-Rene Auclair of Hibernum Creations, developers of Hum a Song and Rock Band Reloaded, feels the weight, too.
"Slowly but surely it is becoming more of a challenge, yes," he said. "The quality assurance cycles are getting longer, and the challenge is growing for smaller developers that want to test their games and apps on all Apple devices. But at the same time, the increased market reach is definitely worth the time and effort."
"Fragmentation does make it more difficult for a small shop like ours to adequately test on all target hardware, but the iOS fragmentation is still very manageable compared to Android or PC," said David Kalina of Tiger Style Games, developers of Waking Mars.
"We’ve gotten pretty comfortable adapting our apps to a variety of screen sizes, aspect ratios, and resolution densities, so it’s getting to the point where adding support would be relatively trivial, but since we don’t have to do that this time, we just automatically get access to all the new users who want a smaller and more affordable iPad," he said.
"We just treat iOS devices as its own unified thing."
Kepa Auwae of Rocketcat Games, developers of Mage Gauntlet, Hook Worlds, Super QuickHook and Punch Quest, told us that the studio handles device and software fragmentation by treating iOS as a unified platform.
"We just treat iOS devices as its own unified thing," he said. "We don’t do iPad only versions, for example, our games that support iPad are universal. We’re starting to look into possibly doing ‘HD universal’ releases of our old games, though. This would mostly be for widescreen support, with the old version being for people still using their pre–3GS devices."
This theme resurfaced again and again, as each new device compels developers to adapt to the changing ecosystem. Halfbot’s Melvin Samuel said that the increasing fragmentation has affected the projects that the studio works on. The studio takes into account not just the devices that are available, but the number of different devices that a user might own, as well.
"When we sit down to talk about a new game, we definitely consider the fragmented nature of the iOS devices," he said. "This is something we are actually doing right now with our next game. We have definitely thrown out game ideas that would work brilliantly on the bigger iPad screen but would have been hindered by the smaller iOS devices. We try to look at the entire iOS market as a whole and not fragmented as the devices would lead on. A lot of iOS users own multiple devices, just as we do and we want to try and make a game that satisfies everyone. That said, at the end of the day we will choose a platform that best suits the game and try not to force the game to fit a platform."
"If we keep working in iOS, we're going to be a lot more conscious of targeting the phone explicitly in the future, since it's the much larger install base."
Tyger’s Kalina sees the same challenges in satisfying players while developing for a platform that spans numerous devices in different configurations.
"One thing we’re certainly conscious of is that while we made a Universal game in Waking Mars, it was designed more for the iPad owner’s level of engagement, and it reads much better on the big screen," he said. "If we keep working in iOS, we’re going to be a lot more conscious of targeting the phone explicitly in the future, since it’s the much larger install base. iPhone users have different desires and expectations when it comes to games, and we want to make sure that we design for those users."
The iPad mini’s display resolution is the same as pre-retina display iOS devices, which the developers we spoke with agree makes the transition to the new device easier than new resolutions like the iPhone 5.
"Although the current fragmentation in iOS is a minor annoyance, it is not a structural problem like the price model on iOS is," Vlambeer’s Rami Simail told Polygon. The studio has developed Super Crate Box in partnership with Halfbot and Ridiculous Fishing for iOS.
"Zero, nada, zilch. No effort needed."
"Apple making sure that the new iPad mini uses the same resolution as the iPad 2 shows that Apple is cautious about just introducing fragmentation," he said. "Our entire developers Twitter-feed sighed a breath of relief when Apple announced it is 1024 x 768. It basically means that, unlike iPhone 5, developers won’t have extra work to ensure a great experience on every iOS device."
Dave Castelnuovo of Bolt Creative, creators of Pocket God, told us that "the great thing about it is that we will automatically support 100 percent of the features of the new iPad mini from day 1. Since the resolution is the same as an iPad2, we don't have to put any extra effort at all to support it.
"Zero, nada, zilch. No effort needed. From an app's perspective it looks exactly like an iPad 2."
Despite the challenges, many developers also expect that the smaller device will broaden the iOS ecosystem, allowing more potential customers to play their games.
"A smaller sized device should make for a more comfortable gaming experience over the current iPad given the touch based controls in our games," Halfbot’s Samuel said. "It also doesn’t hurt to have another stream of potential new customers who can now afford to get the smaller, cheaper iPad."
"We don't see it as fragmentation; we see it as expansion."
Marco DeMiroz, CEO of PlayFirst, developers of Diner Dash and Hotel Transylvania Dash, among many other games, doesn't see a challenge.
"No not for us, since we design our games to be running on all iOS platforms. We don't see it as fragmentation; we see it as expansion," he said.
Tyger Style Game’s Kalina sees broader accessibility in the iPad mini. On of the first slides that Schiller showed during his presentation was of the device held in a single hand, and he made note of the devices thinness and lightness.
"Personally, I think the smaller form factor makes the devices more accessible," Kalina said. "They become more comfortable to hold for longer periods of time, which is good for more engaging game experiences."