Apple wants to attract big-name game developers to create games with its computers and iPads, specifically the new iPad Pro, in mind. That means the company needs to pitch the device (a tablet that most wouldn’t list as a go-to portable gaming device) to a different crowd. Part of the way that Apple conveys that message is by dunking on consoles like Sony’s PlayStation or Microsoft’s Xbox by using a specific phrase in its presentation, as it did yesterday: “It provides an experience that rivals consoles for the very first time.”
2K Games, the developer behind annual sports games like NBA 2K19, appeared onstage at the event with its latest basketball installment to showcase the new iPad Pro’s capabilities. The iPad version of NBA 2K19 renders at more than 6 million pixels and clocks in at 60 fps. Those are impressive numbers, and the demo certainly looked smooth on-screen. The updated iPad Pro’s new specs, which includes a substantial increase in CPU performance and double the GPU power, makes it comparable to an Xbox One S, according to Apple.
Apple marketing the iPad Pro as a gaming device makes sense: 60 percent of gamers play mobile games on a tablet, like the iPad Pro, according to a 2018 Nielsen survey. Creating a tablet with console-capable performance is a major incentive for Apple. But the issue isn’t that Apple is trying to create a piece of hardware that can compete with an Xbox One S; it’s that the iPad Pro is never going to replace the experience of playing a game like NBA 2K19 or other AAA titles on a home console.
That’s especially true when you take into account that an Xbox One S costs $200, while the new iPad Pro runs for $800. It’s hard to market an iPad Pro as a replacement for an Xbox One S when the latter comes fully equipped with better controllers and a dedicated gaming experience — and costs $600 less. (Granted, you’d still need some type of screen to plug the Xbox into.)
The iPad Pro is a great device that’s capable of powerful gaming, but it’s not a home console. Go-to iPad games have always catered to a crowd looking for ports of their favorite RPGs (Final Fantasy Tactics: War of Lions, for example) or lite versions of popular PC games (Minecraft: Pocket Edition). These games are perfect for an iPad: precision controls aren’t required, meaning that sacrificing a proper controller isn’t detrimental to enjoying the experience. They’re something you can play on the go without needing extreme focus. Fun games that don’t take themselves too seriously, like Fortnite, have proved that there’s a space for console games to exist on mobile devices like iPhones and iPads, but they’re still not the same as playing on a console with a proper controller.
Even with console-like specs, the idea of playing a game like Forza on an iPad Pro instead of a home console, ideally on a large TV with a decent sound system, is peculiar. Removing those additional elements of gaming that are crucial to an experience feels shortsighted, and it’s something the iPad Pro simply can’t give people who are looking for more.
That doesn’t mean the iPad Pro isn’t a good gaming machine. It’s powerful and it’s portable. It’s not as tiny as a Nintendo Switch, but it does offer a more versatile entertainment experience, in general. Gaming is a function the iPad Pro is equipped to provide, but it’s not the primary function. It’s not a home console, and trying to market it as comparable to one escapes what makes the iPad attractive for gaming.
The games that are often best suited for the iPad Pro are ones you can pick up and return to when you’re on the go or looking to kill some time without much focus. Apple can market the iPad Pro as a piece of hardware that’s capable of running powerful games, but it’s doing a disservice by promoting AAA titles that most players are going to put hours into while sitting on a couch in front of their PlayStation or Xbox.
Having more ports of retro games or lite versions of popular games would make gaming on the iPad Pro more universal. If Apple could partner with Nintendo to bring classic Pokémon titles to its devices, for instance, both the iPad Pro and iPhone lines would be perfect replacement consoles. Those types of games would be fun additions to have on a powerful entertainment console like an iPad Pro, but they’re just one example of what a tablet can provide. If people are going to spend $800 on an iPad Pro, it’s not going to be just for gaming; gaming has to be an additional feature.
Mobile gaming is on the rise as people pick up more capable smartphones and tablets, but it’s not going to replace the type of sophistication consoles allow for most AAA titles. That’s okay, though, because tablets don’t need to.