Another year, another September Apple event wherein the company unveils the next iteration of their most popular product, the iPhone, has passed us by. And I use the word “iteration” purposefully, as current-day smartphone manufacturers—Apple in particular—seem to have completely erased the word “innovation” from their dictionaries; a point of frustration that I vented in a piece just a couple weeks back. This year, it seems not much as changed; although there was one particular element that was unveiled by the Cupertino company that did, admittedly, have me slack-jawed.
It wasn’t the fact that USB-C was finally coming to the device, as that was inevitable since the EU approved of the “common charger directive” last year. Not having to tug along the now ancient Lightning port each time I pack a bag is a much welcomed (and overdue) change. It wasn’t the new titanium outer shell on the Pros, making them allegedly more durable yet lighter in the hand. It wasn’t the new “Action Button” that is going to be replacing the physical mute switch we’ve seen on every iPhone since, well, ever; allowing users to assign whatever app or task they want to said button with just one click or hold. Nor was it the snazzy new camera on the Pro that allowed for some genuinely impressive stable zoom shots at 5x optical zoom; being done so with some clever lens engineering.
The part that had me in awe was during the section of the event where Apple inevitably talk about their new chipset. We all know what to expect by now. Each year, an Apple representative takes over the stage and talks about their brand new A(insert numerical number here) chip. And each year, it’s essentially the same rigmarole—vague graphs touting an X percentage increase in CPU power, and X percentage increase in GPU power, with something about efficiency and neural engines (a term I’ve yet to truly understand, but nod along confidently regardless). But when talking about the new A17 Pro chip that is going to be fitted inside the upcoming iPhone 15 Pro Apple, almost nonchalantly, showcased the new Resident Evil 4 Remake and Ubisoft’s upcoming Assassin’s Creed Mirage running natively on the device.
I had to do a triple-take when watching this, because I frankly couldn’t believe what I was seeing. These were a couple of brand new, triple-A video games that are (and will be) running on modern home consoles in the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, running on a smartphone. Games that require relatively beefy PCs to run optimally if Steam is anything to go by, running on a smartphone. It made me borderline giddy, not because I see myself playing these massive games on a phone I’ll likely never get (at least not until 2026 when my carrier are basically giving them away), but because of what it means for mobile gaming as a whole.
iPhones (and iPads, for that matter) are fast, and have been for a very long time. I can still pick up my wife’s 2017 5th generation baseline iPad that’s fitted with the A9 chip and still use it without much fuss. Power hasn’t been an issue for Apple’s mobile devices, it’s always been about software limitations—something that any owner of their M-series iPads can frustratedly corroborate. Video games have been one such software limitation, strictly due to its unavailability. Ever since the iPhone 5, Apple have made gaming a headlining feature to showcase their next chipset. And though that same tactic isn’t used for their MacBooks, it’s worked to get the community excited about the capabilities of their phones. Though the actual games never seemed to make it over to the platform.
Sure, over the years we’ve gotten big titles in splashes. I remember the first Bioshock made it on to the App Store in 2014 as a way to showcase the power of the iPhone 5s; but then was mysteriously removed in 2017 without much explanation. The GTA series and some of the PS1-era Final Fantasy games have long been available to play; and thankfully still are. Apple have also opened up their own gaming subscription service in Apple Arcade, where users can access a slew of App Store greats like Monument Valley as well as some console quality indie titles like Sayonara Wild Hearts and Gris; all for a few dollars a month.
Beyond that, Apple have brought other premium indie titles once only available on consoles over to the App Store. Titles such as Transistor, the critically acclaimed Inside, and Dead Cells are all able and run across a multitude of i-devices, both old and new. But for as great as it is to be able to play these coveted indies and older console titles, the dreams of the truly new triple-A games coming to the platform was slowly but surely fading.
September 12th, 2023 kept that dream alive when Greg Joswiak, VP of Worldwide Marketing, took the stage to reveal the power of the A17 Pro Bionic chip and reveal both RE4 and AC Mirage running natively on the iPhone 15 Pro. Silicon Engineering Group Vice President, Sribalan Santhanam, went further into explaining the 3 nanometer chip’s power by stating that not only will it be running these games, but doing so with hardware-accelerated raytracing, saying, “A17 Pro can run these graphics smoothly at much higher framerates than with software-based raytracing.”
The very next day, Hideo Kojima took to Instagram to reveal that Death Stranding would also be coming to the iPhone 15 Pro sometime in 2023. Kojima Productions announced last year that their debut game would be coming to Macs, though they never confirmed a release date. Now with this announcement, it may very well be that the two ports see a release on the same day. Apple have made strides in helping developers bringing their once Windows-only games over to Macs with the help of their Metal API and Game Porting Tool. Now, due to the fact that essentially all of their mainline products are run by Apple Silicone, I’d assume those same tools are being used to port these colossal games over to their iPhones.
Handheld gaming has seen a bit of a renaissance thanks to devices like the Nintendo Switch and Valve’s Steam Deck, inspiring a cavalcade of handheld devices from companies like Lenovo, LG, and Razer. Amidst all these devices, however, it seemed the ones that were already in everyone’s pockets was getting overlooked. Thus far the only way to play recent triple-A games on your phone was to attach a third-party accessory like the Backbone and use one of the many cloud streaming platforms like Xbox Game Pass or Amazon Luna. Either that, or connecting to your existing console via remote play.
Though I personally am a fan of cloud gaming, I understand that all of these options would be rendered useless if one didn’t have access to a stable internet connection. Well, it looks like things may be changing. We’ll have to wait and see how these games will actually run on the iPhone 15 Pro, and how horrid the battery life will be whilst playing them, but regardless it’s an exciting time for mobile gaming, and I’m eager to see what the future holds.