The idea of literally using one device for everything is one that strikes me as incredible, awesome and ... beautifully futuristic. It has consumed me and I'm completely obsessed with the idea. I would love nothing more than to carry a single device that does it all – a cell phone that functions as the brains of my tablet, laptop, television and gaming system.
At the risk of sounding overly ambitious and naive, I have written about the possible bright future for mobile gaming several times now. Just imagine coming home and dropping your cell phone into a dock that's connected to your television, powering on a wireless controller (Bluetooth v4) and firing up a game that has been installed on your phone. When it's time to leave, simply save the game and throw the phone in your pocket. You can continue playing where you left off on the very same device from the train, plane or wherever you are – a friend's or relative's house, a hotel, etc.
It would be a beautiful thing, no?
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I like to let my mind wander when it comes to the future. I get a little carried away and like to think and hope the unlikeliest things will happen in the future world, which will, of course, be perfect. Right?
But this (mobile gaming and the unification of the smartphone with other devices) is something I feel will, for the most part, become a major focus for manufacturers and software providers in years to come. Software like Ubuntu for Android and devices like the ASUS Padfone show that even in early stages, the possibilities of the lowly smartphone stretch far and wide.
It may not turn out exactly as I imagine; with things like DLNA and ever-improving Bluetooth technology, docks and wires may become obsolete. Or maybe everyone will be carrying tablets with headsets disguised as styluses instead of cell phones. It's impossible to say exactly what we should expect over the next few years, or decades even.
However, there are clearly some recent trends that lead me to believe the smartphone's journey has just begun. And gaming will play a big part in its future.
In just five years, smartphone and tablet gaming has turned the mobile gaming industry on its head and made it rather difficult for companies to sell devices like the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita amongst much more versatile portable devices like tablets and smartphones. And in just a very short span, gaming from smartphones and tablets has rapidly improved and radically changed. Just two years ago, even the most in-depth smartphone games were laughable. Today, we have full ports of old PlayStation 2 games and even full fledged, action-packed video games that were created solely for tablets and smartphones (i.e.: Shadowgun, the Modern Combat series, the Infinity Blade series, Real Racing, etc.). And, with the right tools, you can get a wired or wireless gaming controller to work with your Android or iOS device.
But real gamers scoff at the idea of serious gaming from anything other than a dedicated console or their PC. The argument is that the graphics on a smartphone or tablet don't hold a candle to a personal computer or console, such as a PS3 or Xbox 360. And the controls, for a lack of better words, suck. (Only a small percentage of mobile games currently support gamepad controllers.)
When you consider the rate of progression, however, it isn't difficult to see how quickly things are changing and improving for mobile technology. In under two years, the "norm" jumped from a 1GHz single-core processor to 1.5GHz dual- and quad-core processors with multi-core GPUs. And, according to NVIDIA (who should know as well as anyone at this point), this is just the beginning.
Last Thursday, AnandTech received a slide showing mobile GPU progression alongside console and PC.
The logarithmic chart shows that there is a rather large gap between mobile GPU technology and that of consoles and PCs. For 2012, "Mobile" measures between 8 and 9 on the arbitrary scale. Consoles, on the other hand, which have not progressed in seven years, roughly measured 40. And PCs, which have been steadily progressing since before 2001, sit between 200 and 300. Judging by this slide, it's easy to see how far behind mobile technology really is, at least in terms of graphics. But the meat of the story is how steep the projections for mobile GPU technology are for the next two years. By 2014, NVIDIA predicts mobile GPU technology will rank above current-generation gaming consoles, at roughly 50. And we've recently heard similar claims from Qualcomm.
It's worth noting that by the time mobile technology catches current-gen consoles in the graphics department, there will be yet another generation of consoles either available or mere months away. But that doesn't make the rate of innovation any less impressive. And it doesn't change the fact that my vision (read: hopes) for the future of smartphones is one step closer to a reality.
There will always be naysayers, people who prefer to upgrade their gaming "rig" every couple months. They will likely never willingly adopt less-customizable mobile gaming devices – which require simply buying an entirely new device instead of swapping internals – over their excessive "battle stations." But I, for one, am excited for what NVIDIA and the competition can and will do in the next few years. I remember sitting at a table with an NVIDIA rep at CES in January. We talked about the future of Tegra and where mobile technology is headed. Aside from obvious stabs at the competition, everything that was said was extremely exciting. The most important part is that NVIDIA continues to raise the bar, and they have set their sights for the next decade very high.
To be honest, if I could get more serious gaming from a mobile device, I wouldn't hesitate to forget about the two consoles currently collecting dust beneath my television. I'm not the most serious gamer in the world, but I do enjoy my fair share of games from time to time. And I'm willing to bet I'm not the only person out there who would like to get more functionality out of fewer devices.
I would be willing to dive in head-first. What say you, gamers? Would you be interested in console-like gaming with a mobile device? Or will you stick to your battle stations to get your gaming fix?