Jim Merrick, vice president of marketing for mobile processor maker Qualcomm, calls the speed at which mobile chips are advancing "Moore's Law on steroids." And his company has helped fuel that, announcing five new Snapdragon processors in 2014 alone.
"There are so many new handsets in development, so many tablets and mobile devices that we're seeing the rate of innovation continuing to accelerate," Merrick said. "Mobile has always been so far behind and now the top technology feature sets are identical to mobile chipsets like Nvidia's K1 and Qualcomm's Snapdragon."
For gamers, this means the current crop of hit 2D mobile games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga will reside next to deeper, longer 3D interactive experiences closer to the types of games that currently define consoles and PCs. The ability for developers to use the same technology, like Unreal Engine 4 across platforms evens the playing field between what's possible on consoles and what's possible on mobile.
Market research firm Emarketer forecasts a global installed base of 1.75 billion smartphones by the end of 2014. And the number of tablets entering the marketplace increases on a monthly basis with the launch of new devices like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, and Nvidia Tegra Note 7. There are also new hybrid devices like the Nvidia Shield that are bridging the gap between consoles and mobile devices.
A level playing field
Bill Rehbock, general manager of mobile games at Nvidia, points to the Mount & Blade game from Taleworlds that runs on the Nvidia Shield, with peer-to-peer capabilities for mobile and the PC. "You can have 64 multiplayer online players, and some can be playing on the Shield device with its built-in game controller, some can be playing through the Shield on the living room HD TV, and some can be playing on their PC with mouse and keyboard controls," Rehbock said. "And no one will know which device their opponents are playing on, and it doesn't matter because the experience is seamless across each device."
Game developers love this concept because it drastically increases the potential audience for a title beyond just PC gamers. And when you consider a potential convergence of mobile devices with the console experience, the future looks even brighter.
The Nvidia Tegra K1 chipset, which ships this summer, will bring games to mobile on par with the latest current gen games. Nvidia's Rehbock believes that by next year, mobile technology will catch up to Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
"Mobile devices will be smart enough to know I'm in my living room and will just beam this content on my large display with the great surround system, or maybe it's just a snippet of content that will work very easily with the one-finger gameplay or if I'm in a desktop scenario and I want to take a break from my Excel spreadsheet I can just jump into a first-person shooter," Epic Games's Hess said. "That's the direction things are going. Content providers will need to think about providing a content experience that's appropriate not just for the device, but more importantly, the context of the user with that device."
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