If you’re a mobile gamer, you’re probably wondering - what new innovations in mobile phone tech will have the biggest impact on mobile gaming? With cool new technology like virtual and augmented reality, crazy fast and small processors, and even holographic displays, there are some seriously wicked things to come.
Remember Iron Man and his holographic computer screens? We’re getting closer to that reality every single day. Sounds pretty cool, right?
Let’s take a look at how new smartphone tech will impact mobile gaming!
Of course, augmented and virtual reality in smartphones is nothing new. Pokémon Go is already over a year old and people have been talking VR and AR for several years before that. In fact, Yohei Ishii, CEO of Turbo Studios, said that “This is the beginning of a massive shift in the gaming space and specifically in mobile. This is a real kind of indication that mobile is coming into its own.”
In 2016, Mobile gaming brought in $38.6 billion worth of revenues - a 20% increase from 2015. Also, more people now play games on mobile than on PC’s and consoles.
Now, VR and AR are starting to become more prominent as technology evolves. We now have the Samsung Gear VR, the incredibly affordable Google Cardboard, and the high-end Oculus Rift to pair with our phones and get lost in a virtual world.
The Snapdragon 835 processors in the latest phones, which are 35% smaller and use 25% less power than previous designs. Combine them with the Gear VR controller, which lets you physically throw objects and interact with the virtual world, and things start to get seriously cool.
There are still hiccups, like some frame rate lagging and the controller glitching out, but these things are sure to be fixed as VR becomes more mainstream. But no matter how good VR gets, there’s always the problem of being immersed in your own world, lonely and without true human interaction. Well, don’t worry - there are multiplayer VR games now, as well.
But if you think traditional VR is cool, just wait till you see what Avegant’s been cooking up…
Enter the Avegant Glyph, a virtual viewing experience that actually beams the video right onto your retinas. That’s right - Avegant's “Patented Retinal Imaging Technology mimics natural eyesight through LED projection onto millions of microscopic mirrors.” It’s about as close to actually seeing something as you can get without, well, actually seeing it.
Of course, my concern with all this tech is what it’ll do to your eyesight and how it will impact the social interaction of people. Smartphones have already been said to decrease our attention spans and cause us to paradoxically be less social… but that’s for another article.
Virtual reality is only one potential, however. The real innovations are coming in augmented reality, which will impact far more than mobile gaming. When Pokémon Go came out, many of the concerns and concentrations shifted from virtual to augmented. Afterall, if we can make the real world into a playground, why lock ourselves away into a virtual one?
In AR games, you react to events in the real world around you. My imagination drifts to a real-world Skyrim, where people can travel to locations in the real world - like cities, jungles, or caves - and play part of an augmented reality MMORPG.
Maybe that’s a long way off - maybe it will never happen - but we do have some early attempts, like Microsoft’s Fragments, an investigation crime-solving game you can play in your own home.
This is all very exciting. But augmented, mixed, and virtual reality are only one potential for mobile games. The latest innovations in processing power have opened some much more practical possibilities for your smartphone gaming needs.
The biggest practical leaps in mobile gaming are going to be getting your little phone on a bigger screen. Why? Because 77% of people own a smartphone as of January this year. More people own a smartphone than have high-speed internet in their homes (76%). In other words, there’s evidence that in the future your phone is your only computer.
It’s plausible. After all, we’re seeing a trend of technology continually getting smaller, faster, and more efficient. Once they get to a point where the majority of average work and gaming tasks can be done from your phone, the only other piece of the puzzle is making your phone easily connect to a TV or computer monitor.
We’re already able to screen share from your phone to your TV. With the Nintendo Switch, we’ve seen how a mobile phone/gaming console might function. There could be a base you can plug your phone into with an extra fan to keep it cool and charging capabilities to keep you going for long hours. Then, you can pull it off and take your games on the road. Additionally, the dock could allow you to connect a bluetooth keyboard and mouse for PC gaming. It would be like a mobile, console, PC, TV hybrid. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?
While we’re still a ways off from this complete mobile powerhouse, the Snapdragon 835 in Samsung’s latest phones is actually powerful enough to run a Windows 10 PC. Less demanding popular games, such as League of Legends, Call of Duty, and even World of Warcraft, may soon be within mobile’s reach.
In fact, Nizar Romdan, the Ecosystem Director for ARM (the company responsible for chip architecture for most mobile devices), has been quoted saying the “high-end tablets and smartphones will have visuals that are on par with the popular gaming consoles.”
Oh, and then there’s the PGS (Portable Gaming System) phone/mobile console that recently went into pre-order. From the looks of things, this guy isn’t as powerful as it needs to be. However, it does give you a good idea of what the future of mobile gaming might look like - built-in controllers, dual-screens, and a whole lot of fun.
But it might not have to be the end-all be-all to smartphone gaming. You can get controllers and attach them to any phone with the Gamevice.
“Gamevice has positioned itself as the leading gamepad solution and with exciting upcoming partnerships along with an expanded product line that will work with over 1 billion devices,” the company stated in a release. They actually drew inspiration from the Nintendo Switch. “The Switch has proven that consumers want a form factor that is portable and mobile,” company CEO Philip Hyun told PocketGamer.biz. “It helps us that Nintendo will also be pushing to bring better content to this type of platform.”
But enough about practical advancements; Let’s talk about the sci-fi stuff!
You know about VR and AR. You know about hooking your phone up as your new console or PC. But what about the really cool stuff - that Tony Stark holographic display I mentioned at the start of the article. It’s coming. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but it will be here in some form or another. How do I know?
Because holographic phones are already here. They’ve been here for over a year now.
I know what you’re thinking - this looks less than impressive, and you’re right. The holographic phone’s resolution is a measly 160×104 pixels, a far cry from today’s breathtaking 4k. This is actually what’s holding the phone back from being released for consumer use.
However, don’t forget that the first console, the Magnavox Odyssey, had a screen resolution of 160×200 pixels. The first release of new technology is always lacking, we just have much better things to compare this phone to. Given enough time, the pixel quality will rise and this tech will become commonplace. And hey - you can play Angry Birds. That’s worth something, right?
But holographic is far different from full-blown holograms. Is the stuff of every gamer’s dreams going to be a reality any time soon?
The closest thing we have is the HYDROGEN ONE Media Machine, which is in pre-order… and feels like a joke. They have one picture, and give virtually no details. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be seeing full-on holograms any time soon in the gaming world. At least not without those mixed reality glasses we talked about.
Let’s come back to down to reality - If phones are getting so powerful, what’s holding them back?
Mobile gaming has come a long way since Pong for your phone. But it still has a long way to go. There are a few massive hurdles, in particular, holding things back.
One of these hurdles is keeping things cool. The more power you put into a small device, the hotter it gets. And there simply isn’t enough room in a tiny phone to put in a powerful enough fan. We’ll need to explore other cooling options to keep upping the power.
Aside from that, we have battery power. Sure, you can play a highly demanding game for an hour or two, but then it’s not truly mobile. However, one of the more practical applications of nanotechnology that’s being developed right now is flash charging.
This is awesome, check it out:
As far as hurdles go, Romdan at Casual Connect Europe has this to say: “Our view is that mobile VR is the use case that could unlock the potential of mobile for hardcore gamers. For once, mobile devices are on par with PC and consoles in terms of experience [when it comes to the form factor of VR].”
“We won’t have the same processing. And battery life is a problem. But it is the same user experience. That could be a game changer for mobile gaming.”
Those are really the only major hurdles. Of course, there’s also processing power as Romdan said - but that will naturally improve as technology improves. Remember Moore’s Law? Every two years technology’s capabilities double. Intel insists that still holds true.
Augmented and virtual reality are here. They’re getting better and more practical everyday. I suspect they’ll soon become a regular part of the average American household, probably alongside tech like Google Voice or Amazon Echo, and some kind of house AI. As technology advances, we’ll see smartphones with the ability to hook up to big screens and be turned into consoles with power similar to today’s laptops - able to play some of the most popular, less-demanding games.
Far off in the future (but not that far) we’ll start to see innovations around holograms and our Iron Man fantasies will become a reality. That’s when gaming will get really interesting.
Oh - and did you hear that Nintendo is making a Legend of Zelda smartphone game? Yeah, we’re excited too.