Each attempt at carving a scar in Nintendo’s portable wall, be it Atari’s Lynx in 1988, NEC’s Turbo Express in 1990, Sega’s Game Gear in 1991 or their Nomad in 1995, share a common, problematic thread: power was more important than size. They were all initially impressive entries, but have lived and quickly died by this principle, doomed to secure places in gaming’s hall of WTF.
With the launch of the PSP, Apple sees Sony falling into a similar trap. But despite relative quantum leaps in computing technology and publishers like Blizzard and Maxis (among others) backing the Mac, Apple is still hardly synonymous with gaming.
That is, until today. iPod, meet gPod, your younger, nerdier, muscle-bound brother. GR was there to get the scoop on this interesting new move from the house that Jobs built.
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Although slimmer and lighter than both competing handhelds, the gPod feels quite sturdy (unlike the PSP, which will detonate if you sneeze). Apple hopes to marry their ingenious minimalist design with considerable power and a staggering array of features. According to Jonathan Ive, the industrial designer behind the iPod and G5 iMacs, “the gPod will go one step beyond the PSP’s merger of console quality and portable convenience. It will undoubtedly blur the line between the handheld and the laptop.”
We’d love to argue, but witness the tech. The gPod’s OS is a UNIX based variant of Mac OS X, tentatively titled “Cheshire,” in keeping with that whole feline motif Apple’s got going. “Jaguar, Panther, and Tiger are names that befit the larger systems,” grinned Allison Johnson, Apple’s newly appointed VP of Worldwide Marketing Communications. “Cheshire rouses the perfect blend of youth and maturity, the promise of a fantastic experience as you delve further into the rabbit hole.”
And delve we did. Click onward to see and read more!
In a controversial design decision, the gPod allows you to capture multiple game saves, dock them as shortcuts, and navigate through them quickly. Instead of being forced to drive for 40 minutes to retry a mission in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, you could quickly double-click the Sense Pad’s center, save the game, and continue to give it hell. Though some players might like to cheapen their game experience by saving every time they kill a bad guy, functionality to save at any time is crucial in a handheld. Apple has decided that losing progress due to a dying battery or poor game design is a greater evil than a runaway n00b. The company trusts that once we buy the game, it is ours to enjoy as we see fit, and that we gamers are the only ones empowered to make that decision. Our game experience is rightly in our hands.
To handle the higher octane games and have Cheshire available on the fly, gPod features a robust 300 MHz G4 processor, 512 MB of RAM and 32 MB of dedicated video memory. The system bus is a whopping 1.0 GHz, which means any heavy graphics or data processing can be crunched with no sweat. Since the G4 processor also has remarkably low energy consumption, tests we ran had the gPod’s lithium ion battery lasting a full two hours longer than the PSP’s.
The gPod has a slightly smaller screen than Sony’s device, but sports a much higher resolution and contrast ratio. Since gPod uses the same screen technology as Apple’s famed digital displays, expect refresh rates and brightness that trumps anything on the market.
The iPod’s intuitive click wheel has been mastered to serve as a touch-sensitive analog pad able to detect 256 degrees of pressure. The amount of sensitivity is set by the software, so you can tap the Sense Pad inward like a conventional D-Pad, hold a direction by lightly keeping your fingertip on a section of the pad, or perform rotations by grazing over it, depending on the game and your style of play. The Sense Pad has a bit of give and is very forgiving if you can’t resist pushing your finger into it. Once the center is double-clicked and held for a second, the game pauses, minimizes, and your customizable desktop comes onscreen, where you can access all of the system’s preferences and settings.
What’s most interesting about Apple’s latest interface innovation is that every point on the circular Sense Pad is mapped to points on the gPod’s screen, so it can be used as a mouse to navigate a cursor in the OS or in genres that used to be strictly limited to PCs, like real-time strategy games, simulations, or point-and-click RPGs. In other words, games like StarCraft, Rollercoaster Tycoon, The Sims, or Diablo may now be developed for a handheld. The dam is about to burst.
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The genre blending could well be unprecedented. While playing an RTS, you could zoom into a conflict and take full control of your hero to unleash moves of Soul Caliber complexity, all in an RPG-sized leveling and equipment scheme, saved and resumed at your leisure. The possibilities are endless. For more casual players, the Sense Pad may also be used as a variation of the DS’s touch screen for certain puzzle or mini-games, but without the need for that pesky stylus.
The six main buttons are laid out in classic arcade style. As a nod to the stellar Genesis six-button controller, this simple and effective design is one we have been without for way too long. Once you handle it, you’ll feel right at home.
When it comes to memory, the gPod stands up beautifully, packing a 2 GB Hard Drive. A PC or a Mac will treat the gPod as an external drive much like an iPod, so you can store and watch movies or transfer data back and forth easily. Music stored on a gPod can be played back, arranged into playlists, or shuffled at any time during a game, since any software’s background music and sound effect volume levels are controlled entirely by Cheshire.
Staving off the curse of the cartridge, Apple is using optical mini-disks, similar in size to the PSP’s UMDs, that have a thin protective coating to prevent scratches and fingerprints. They slip into the gPod like the G5 iMacs ï¿½ fewer parts means there’s less that can break or wear.
Apple has also learned from another past mistake: the skull-numbing iPod Photo. In addition to photo view software, gPod will come with built-in 2.4 megapixel digital camera capability, enough to print standard 4ï¿½ x 6ï¿½ shots with photo lab clarity. Since gPod uses the same USB connection cable as an iPod, you can print photos to any printer which supports Mac OS X or WinXP.
Given the types of games on the horizon for gPod and the fact that it must pass the PSP gauntlet, online connectivity is an obvious must-have. Because of Wi-Fi connectivity standards, the gPod will connect seamlessly to any PC and/or Mac network. To prevent widespread illegal file-sharing, you will NOT be able to copy software back and forth between the unit and a computer. Pirates might as well head back to seaï¿½at least until those troublesome hackers find ways around the built-in encryption.
However, Apple’s gPod will naturally support iTunes for your music downloading, and plans are in the works to facilitate game downloads as well. Simpler games of tiny file sizes, such as Solitaire or Ms. Pac Man, may be purchased online, saved directly to your gPod for future play, and even backed up to your computer’s hard drive.
With rumors circulating about Nintendo already putting their next Game Boy into rapid development to compensate for the whooping they fear from Sony, Apple is watching the market with a jeweler’s lens. To stay competitive, Apple knows they have to hit the $200 price tag, regardless of the array of features the system boasts. Apple kingpin Steve Jobs gave the world his take on the seemingly intractable situation: ï¿½We’re certainly willing to take a hit on the hardware. Even if we break even after all the software sales, we’ll be able to bring publishers back to the Mac. It’s a win/win situation.ï¿½
Apple could certainly push for a December launch, but a system can only be as good as the games. With Sega, Konami, Capcom, Ubisoft, Namco, Blizzard, EA, and others already jumping on the bandwagon, exclusivity deals for gPod games that take advantage its unique functions are looming. There is some talk about Apple releasing the gPod to coincide with Nintendo’s next Game Boy, since Sony is proving to the world that you can, in fact, challenge Goliath.
Looks like David’s about to get some competition, too. We’ll have more on the gPod as the facts roll out. Until then, check out the official Apple press release.
Apple Announces The gPod Handheld Gaming System
Cupertino, CA (AP) April 1, 2005 — Apple Computer, Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) today unveiled plans for a first-generation handheld gaming system, dubbed gPod. Combining the best features of the iPod with cutting-edge gaming technology and a full color wide-screen, the gPod is expected to be available in early 2006.
“The gPod will be the next must-have consumer electronics device,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “It has enormous appeal for music lovers, movie lovers and gamers alike. And with wireless integration, it can surf the Internet from thousands of wireless hotspots around the world.”
gPod is based on iPod’s pioneering design and interface, and will run on a optimized version of the Mac OS called “Cheshire.” Featuring a 300MHz G4 processor, 512 MB of RAM, 32 MB of dedicated video RAM and a 2 GB hard drive, gPod will have more than enough power to run the latest in contemporary video games. Integrated 802.11b/g wireless will allow multiplayer gaming between gPods or over the Internet.
gPod will work effortlessly with Apple’s iTunes, providing music lovers with access to the iTunes Music Store, the worldï¿½s leading digital music service. Additionally, the gPod will have the ability to download movies and games on demand from Apple’s new Internet Movie and Video Game services. gPod will use Apple’s patent-pending Auto-Sync, which works seamlessly with iTunes to automatically download an entire digital library onto gPod with just one click, keeping it up-to-date whenever gPod is plugged into a Mac or Windows computer using USB 2.0. Plugging directly into the USB 2.0 port will also conveniently charge the gPod. One connection does it all.*
“The video game business has grown to $10 billion, eclipsing the Hollywood box-office” says Apple spokesman Sal Pagicmants, “Now, Apple will revolutionize gaming the same way it revolutionized the music industry. Truly, we are on the verge of a Game Revolution.”
Pricing & Availability
The 2GB and 4GB models of gPod for Mac or Windows are expected to be available worldwide in Q1 2006. Pricing has not yet been determined, but gPod will be ‘very competitively’ priced against current portable gaming systems.
All gPods will include rechargeable batteries with a limited number of charge cycles and may eventually need to be replaced. Battery life and number of charge cycles vary by use and settings. See www.apple.com/batteries for more information.
*Firewire options require an optional cable adapter, sold separately.
Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning desktop and notebook computers, OS X operating system, iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital music revolution with its iPod portable music players and iTunes online music store.
NOTE TO EDITORS: For additional information, visit Apple’s PR website or call Apple’s Media Helpline at (408) 996-1010.
Apple, the Apple logo, Macintosh, Mac, Mac OS, iPod and gPod are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Apple. Other company and product names may be trademarks of their respective owners.