The iPad is already a strong entry in the mobile games realm, with its large, high-resolution display, touchscreen interface and support for external devices like keyboards. Plus it has the iPhone/iPad development community cranking out innovative games all the time, too.
In addition to all that existing gaming goodness, it looks like you might very soon be able to play a whole host of your favorite PC games on the platform, too. Not natively, of course (though ports of classics seems to be the thing to do these days), but via game streaming service Gaikai, which, much like OnLive before it, aims to remove the steep hardware barriers associated with many advanced video games.
Gaikai was shown running on an iPad (on Touch Arcade), and playing World of Warcraft on the device. Whether it’s a good thing to put WoW in the hands of addicts wherever they happen to go is another question entirely, but the promise of PC games running untethered on a device in your lap is intriguing indeed. I’m not a WoW player myself, but Starcraft II is landing late this July, and I somehow doubt it’ll be accompanied by a native iPhone port at the same time.
But will the gatekeepers at Apple allow Gaikai to invade its playground? The move could potentially have serious consequences on the App Store’s economics, since conceivably, Gaikai could stream any game to the iPad and other Apple devices, not just ones sanctioned by the Mac maker. Gaikai’s Dave Perry says Apple basically can’t block the service.
The reason being, Gaikai is HTML5-based technology. That means that its browser-based player will work fine on mobile Safari out of the box, unless Apple goes out of its way to shut down access to Gaikai specifically, which would fly in the face of certain recent correspondence by Steve Jobs himself regarding the closed nature of Flash versus the open nature of HTML5.
Gaikai shows the way to sidestepping iCensorship altogether, at least in terms of streamable web content. At this stage in the game, Apple has basically painted itself into a corner wherein it has to condone anything done using the HTML5 standard, versus rich media that uses browser-based plugins like Flash and Silverlight. It won’t work for all apps (like the one that allows you to sync wirelessly, for instance), but it should allow content providers to publish whatever kind of iPad and iPhone-targeted material they want without blocking fears.
We’ll see the Gaikai North American beta launch in the comings weeks, and then we’ll find out just how much openness Apple can tolerate. Hopefully it’s just enough to see me playing Civilization 5 on my iPad this fall.