Tablet Gaming Today and a Look at The Future

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One of the most dramatic shifts in portable gaming history has been the surge in popularity of smartphones and tablets in the past two years. In 2009, Android and iOS devices accounted for ~19 percent of game revenue. In 2010, their combined share nearly doubled, while Flurry Analytics estimates that the two platforms will account for 58 percent of gaming revenue in 2011.



This shift, combined with the rising popularity of "freemium" distribution models in which much or all of a game's content is provided free of charge while a subset of top-tier content is available for a nominal fee, has been hailed in some quarters as a sea change that'll ultimately rock the entire gaming industry and transform the way we play.

We decided to round up a hefty batch of tablet games on the Toshiba Thrive we reviewed earlier this year and see where they led us. Are fingers the future of gaming?  

Maybe -- but there's a lot of work to do.

Ergonomics:


Ergonomics: The study of how to build things no one thinks about while using


It's impossible to talk about handheld gaming without discussing ergonomics and ease-of-use. The Toshiba Thrive's 1.6lb weight is average for an Android tablet and 25.6 ounces doesn't sound heavy. We were surprised to discover just how clumsy the tablet was when it came to gaming when seated in anything but a comfortable chair, however.

Portrait mode is awkward with just one hand, no matter what. Landscape mode is easier to hold one-handed -- it doesn't require the same bending of the wrist -- but there's a significant dead zone in the center of the device where our thumbs couldn't comfortably reach.


Our test vehicle: Toshiba's Thrive 10-Inch Android 3.2 Slate

The 16:10 ratio favored by most non-iPad manufacturers isn't ideal for gaming. The Thrive is 6.97 inches tall and 10.75" wide. The iPad 2, which offers a slightly smaller 9.7" screen, is 9.5" tall by 7.31" wide. While we aren't comparing the two platforms directly, there's no part of the iPad 2's 4:3 screen that's difficult to reach, which translates into more surface area available for gaming. A thinner bezel would improve this situation, but it's also an example of how tablet manufacturers who want to attract gamers may need to re-think their dimensions.

One of the challenges facing tablet gaming is the inherent difficulty in scaling interfaces to suit a variety of devices. What works on a smartphone or small tablet may not translate well to a larger one. Riptide GP, a game we'll show you later, has a particular problem here. The player's movement is controlled via tilting the tablet to the left and right, and while this might work perfectly on a smartphone, it's far too cumbersome for a tablet nearly 11 inches wide. EA's Need for Speed: Shift HD has a similar problem.

User Interface:

Touch control is an intuitively simple concept that's extremely difficult to execute effectively. First, there's the fact that the device is directly controlled by hand while simultaneously supported by them. This makes it difficult for a player to use more than one finger (typically the thumb) per hand.


Fancy, hi-tech interfaces are easier to design when no one actually needs to use them for anything

Another tablet-specific challenge is that the control surface also functions as the game's display. Grouping buttons and functions to the sides helps prevent one's fingers from blocking important game data -- but this doesn't always work. In some titles, (Dungeon Defenders is one), defense tower upgrades are displayed near the tower itself, typically at the center of the screen. Defender is a basic defense strategy game where moving a finger to effectively aim at closer enemies leaves the rest of your hand blocking the display.
 

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While tablets are nice, I just ant get into any game where I only use my touch on the screen. I still enjoy my buttons and the tactile feed back that they and joy sticks give back to me.

Tablets are the way of the future and there is a huge market for games on them. Tablets are the only thing 95% of computer/mac users need. This market of gaming will blossom in the future as many none "gamers" become gamers because they see the games as time killers and something fun to do.

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Der, is that you? Where ya been buddy?! :)

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Dave_HH:

Der, is that you? Where ya been buddy?! :)

I have been lurking in the shadows....lol... Was flying a ton but now the weather has been bad for a long period of time so I am home more often. 

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Tablets are the only thing 95% of computer/mac users need.

BZZT.

Do you own one? I ask that seriously. The Toshiba Thrive (and every other Android 10.1" tablet based on their size and weight) are miserable for any sort of typing. In landscape mode, your fingers can't reach the middle of the keyboard. In portrait mode you can reach the keyboard--but holding the tablet in that way is stressful on the wrists. It's top-heavy. There's no way to hold an 11"-tall tablet at the base and not end up feeling like it's darned awkward at best.

The iPad/iPad 2 are exceptions, but with Apple going nuts suing everyone over things like square corners, I doubt we'll see a bunch of manufacturers jumping for that device's 4:3 form factor any time soon. Even the iPad 2 is great if you intend to consume content, but as soon as you need to create any, it falls flat.

As someone who relies on a computer for "advanced" functions like photo cropping, email, and writing in a no-frills text editor (I use Notepad) + a spell checker, I couldn't easily switch to a tablet. I need pixel precision when it comes to cropping a photo or even lightening an image. I need a keyboard I can type on at some speed. I might be able to make do with something like the Transformer Prime, but not easily.

I think tablets fulfill the desires of a certain segment of the population and provide a nifty service -- but they don't come anywhere close to fulfilling the needs of even of a moderate user.

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Joel H:

Tablets are the only thing 95% of computer/mac users need.

BZZT.

Do you own one? I ask that seriously. The Toshiba Thrive (and every other Android 10.1" tablet based on their size and weight) are miserable for any sort of typing. In landscape mode, your fingers can't reach the middle of the keyboard. In portrait mode you can reach the keyboard--but holding the tablet in that way is stressful on the wrists. It's top-heavy. There's no way to hold an 11"-tall tablet at the base and not end up feeling like it's darned awkward at best.

The iPad/iPad 2 are exceptions, but with Apple going nuts suing everyone over things like square corners, I doubt we'll see a bunch of manufacturers jumping for that device's 4:3 form factor any time soon. Even the iPad 2 is great if you intend to consume content, but as soon as you need to create any, it falls flat.

As someone who relies on a computer for "advanced" functions like photo cropping, email, and writing in a no-frills text editor (I use Notepad) + a spell checker, I couldn't easily switch to a tablet. I need pixel precision when it comes to cropping a photo or even lightening an image. I need a keyboard I can type on at some speed. I might be able to make do with something like the Transformer Prime, but not easily.

I think tablets fulfill the desires of a certain segment of the population and provide a nifty service -- but they don't come anywhere close to fulfilling the needs of even of a moderate user.

While this is all true. Many users don't type anything other then email or on facebook. I would say the majority of people just use their computer to hold pictures, read email, and browse the web, play the occasional web based game(farmville, ect..). 

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Just e-mail, facebook and especially any form of texting can alone justify the need for a keyboard. The faster and more easily you can type means less time wasted getting messages out. Along with fewer chances of making mistakes and tiring out with prolonged conversations.

It's why physical keyboards as either accessories or integrated slider designs continue to persist and even grow in demand in the tablet market.

A touch only interface is part of the future but it's not the wave of the future because it's inherently limited, but it can be combined with other input methods like minority report style gesture controls for an overall better experience and traditional interfaces when needed.

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Sweet review of the games out there for tablets and if tablets can cut it. I personally like my smartphone for casual gaming more than any of the tablets I have been able to try out. I am with you Der I really like the physical buttons of controllers, keyboards, mice, joysticks, etc. I think this goes back to the Wii U basically using a tablet as a controller device and it will be interesting to see what they do with it.

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Wii U isn't a example of a tablet gaming device. It's just a wireless hand held controller with a touch screen LCD thrown in, that's integrated for use with the console in a setup reminiscent of the DS.

You'll still be using many of the traditional gaming controls for playing traditional games for example.

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Looking forward to the future. When Tablets perform at awesome desktop specs! :D

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Can't go wrong with Fruit Ninja, I gave my little brother that game (almost 3) and he was having a blast ! lol

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