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Can the iPad be a relevant portable gaming platform?

Apple iPad.
Apple iPad.

With Apple announcing their latest handheld multimedia device, the iPad, at an Apple press conference in San Francisco, many have wondered if this is Apple’s true induction into the portable gaming market. Looking at the facts on all fronts, can the iPad be a viable gaming platform and compete with its main handheld rivals: the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP?

The Games
Naturally, for a device to become a viable gaming platform it needs to have games. The iPod Touch and iPhone both feature Apple’s App Store, a user-friendly medium for downloading games and other types of applications. The popular App Store will be as featured as ever on the iPad, with most iPhone compatible apps working on the iPad. Along with the apps come all the games, both iPod Touch and iPhone compatible.

This means that when the iPad hits the market in March 2010, it will already have over 25,000 games available for download - both paid and for free. Of the paid games, a total of 11 have an app store rating of 4.5/5 stars, which can be averaged out to 8.8 to 9.2 at an out of ten scale. According to Metacritic, a site that compiles review scores from many different publications and averages them, the DS has 12 games with an 8.8 average or higher and the PSP has nine.

To put this at a greater comparison: the iPod Touch/iPhone version of Grandtheft Auto: Chinatown Wars scored a 9/10 on IGN. The PSP version has a 9.0 average on Metacritic, and the DS version has a 9.3/10 average on Metacritic. Of course, reviews are completely subjective, but they provide an accurate representation for games on a platform.

The great part about the App Store games, though, is that they are very inexpensive. Most games aren’t more than $10, and a lot are in the $5 to $1 range. If they aren’t free, that is.

Input Method and Presentation
The DS and PSP both feature D-pads and face/shoulder buttons as a source for input. The DS also features a touch screen, and the PSP a thumb stick. The iPad, like its predecessors, will feature only a multi-touch touch screen and an accelerometer. This means that the common criticisms for iPod Touch/iPhone games are likely to emerge with the iPad: games are too difficult or awkward to control just with the touch screen. To compensate for this, however, the iPad’s dimensions have been greatly increased: the device is 9.56 x 7.47 inches.

In terms of presentation, the iPad looks like a giant iPod Touch and runs the iPhone OS. The App Store is much more stream-lined and user friendly than the DSi Shop Channel and PS Store, but the App Store is crammed with many more games and apps than what Nintendo and Sony’s handheld marketplaces have.

Power, Storage and Multimedia
The iPad runs on a 1GHz Apple A4 SoC processor, more powerful than the DSi’s 133 MHz and the PSP’s 133 MHz. However, the iPad is limited to on board memory only, as it does not feature USB flash drive or SD card support. This gives the DS and PSP the upper hand, since both feature physical forms of games along with digital.

Multimedia functions are finding their way into more and more gaming platforms, and they’re fully featured on the iPad. The iPad contains popular services such as iTunes and the iBookstore. The DSi features a Sound Channel that plays AAC type audio files, and the PSP plays MP3 files. Neither of these are as organized or mainstream as iTunes, however.

Only time will tell if the iPad can become a viable gaming device, but a $499 starting price certainly doesn’t help it. It’s entirely up to the consumer, though, as there are many people who love the games already available on the App Store, and there are many great games across all three platforms.

Do you think the iPad can become a relevant portable gaming device? Post your thoughts in the comments section below!

Check out the Denver Apple store once the iPad releases.

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