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What the iPhone 3.0 announcements mean for gamers

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At yesterday’s keynote speech, Apple revealed details of the new iPhone 3.0 hardware, now called the 3G S. With the ‘S’ of this brand name standing for ‘speed’, we have to wonder whether gamers using the current iPhone are likely to be left out in the future thanks to the new version’s improvements.

Even before considering the reported 50 per cent speed improvements offered by the 3G S, iPhone 3G users are already left with less gaming horsepower than iPod Touch 2G users. As unreformed gaming geeks, we’ve seen the substantial differences in performance between the two devices. Where Terminator Salvation chugs along a little on the iPhone, the frame rate is far more consistent on the Touch 2G.

So, before we start worrying about whether the arrival of the 3G S will start bringing about a two-tiered App Store, we need to think about exactly how much faster than the iPod Touch 2G the 3GS is likely to be- since the current difference in performance doesn’t cause too much of an uproar.

Taking a look at the 3G S’s CPU specifications alone, it’s not light years ahead of the iPod Touch 2G. The latter uses a 620MHz ARM CPU, underclocked down to 533Mhz to keep battery life and heat at acceptable levels. The new 3G S runs at 600MHz so, while it’s a definite increase, it’s not quite as stratospheric a rise as you might have thought.

More important than these figures in gaming terms are the rumours that the new iPhone is going to feature a dedicated 3D graphics chip. Although made our ears prick up when we first heard the rumour from Kotaku, the most important fact to remember is that the original iPhone also has its own dedicated GPU.

We’re not trying to scratch away the shine on the new 3G S announcements, we just want to try and reassure current iPhone users than you’re unlikely to be left out of many game releases in the near future. We’ve been keeping a keen eye on games for the iPhone since the App Store was opened, and although thousands of them have been released, very few get near to pushing the iPhone hardware. Sure, lots of them have caused the iPhone to start chugging, but mostly because of unoptimised code rather than high-end visuals.

Even more telling than the idea that the 3G S offers an evolutionary performance upgrade rather than a revolutionary one is the fact that the producers of top-end games, such as Gameloft, Firemint and ngmoco, are in fact those who are going to be most keen on keeping all iPhone gamers on side.

Although these companies are often the best as pushing the gaming envelope, they’re also those facing the biggest development budgets. Just consider how much a game like Terminator Salvation or Real Racing costs to make in comparison with a simple, but admittedly great, casual game like Just Fillin’ by Playtoniq.

With tens of millions of iPhone and iPod Touch devices running off the current PowerVR GPU, no publishers are going to be jumping ship any time soon to start on 3G S-specific development, especially those with the clout to use its as-yet untested power.

What’s likely to be the solution then? Well, we think that high end games are likely to start appearing with more user-selectable graphical options. Find your iPhone struggling with the latest Gameloft blockbuster? Turn off real time shadows or those rippling water effects.

Sure, it’ll be a disappointing move away from the current universality of the App Store, but it’s not the end of the world, is it? It still a far cry from the draw backs of java gaming, where differences between handsets often result not just in a reduction in graphical quality, but half of the game content being lopped off too.

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