GamesBeat

iPad Air: What Apple’s latest tablet means for mobile gaming

Apple's new iPad Air will feature the 64-bit A7 chip.

Above: Apple's new iPad Air will feature the 64-bit A7 chip.

Image Credit: Apple

Apple introduced the latest in its full-sized iPad lineup today. It’s called the iPad Air, and it could have a major effect on the quality of future mobile games.

As expected, Apple updated the iPad Air with its powerful A7 chip. This means that the new device is now running iOS on a 64-bit processor. We covered what this meant when Apple included the A7 in its iPhone 5S, but let’s recap:

A 64-bit processor means that the iPad Air can address more memory. Apple didn’t reveal how much RAM is in the new device, but if it’s more than 4GB, that’s thanks to the A7. In human language, more RAM means that iPad Air can handle more and bigger programs at once.

While the 64-bit A7 theoretically gives iPad Air the capacity to handle more than 4GB of RAM, the device probably doesn’t actually have that much memory. Apple isn’t revealing that aspect of the system’s specifications, but the iPhone 5S has only 1GB of memory, according to a breakdown by website Anandtech.

The iPhone 5S definitely isn’t taking advantage of the A7’s memory-addressing capabilities, and it’s unlikely that the iPad Air is, either. For Apple, these devices are all about the future, but that doesn’t mean gaming on the iOS platform won’t benefit in the short term.

What is better about the iPad Air then?

Right now, the A7 in both the iPhone 5S and iPad Air should start cutting down on load times. Sure, 64-bit means the chips can handle more memory, but it also includes extra storage units called registers that can compute data a lot more efficiently.

“[64-bit is] a little bit of an overkill for where we’re at right now,” Infinity Blade III producer Geremy Mustard told GamesBeat about the A7 chip in September. “But it really helps with load times. That’s for games and for every app. It’s really amazing how smooth the operating system feels because it is running on this chip.”

This is especially important for Retina devices like the iPad Air. As more graphics-intensive 3D games aim to use the full breadth of the iPad Air’s 3.1 million pixels of resolution, they’re going to need to pack in a lot more data. The 64-bit processor will unload that data a lot faster than the dusty old 32-bit systems ever could.

The A7 is also a more powerful all-around chip than the hardware that powered previous generations of iOS devices. Apple confirmed iPad Air should see an eight-times boost to CPU performance and a 72-times increase in graphics processing over the original iPad. While that’s a weird comparison to make (the OG iPad is 4 years old), the iPad Air is still the most powerful iPad yet.

But it’s not the raw power alone that makes the iPad Air excellent for gaming — it’s the fact that both of Apple’s flagship iOS devices are now running on the same 64-bit base.

Unified development

Now that developers know that the top-of-the-line devices in both of Apple’s iOS categories are running 64-bit processors, they can focus on taking full advantage of the hardware.

After iOS announced the A7, developers quickly began updating their apps to support the feature, but studios won’t get the full benefit of the A7 until they begin working from the ground up on games and apps designed around the new architecture. They can do that now with the confidence that the work they’re putting into taking advantage of the new feature will find an audience on both the iPhone and iPad.

Chair Games’ Infinity Blade III is an example of what is possible with the new hardware, and with the iPad and iPhone unified in 64-bit processing, development of comparable games should start to heat up.


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