It’s getting harder and harder for smartphone designers to add new features to our touchscreen devices that add real value or advancement to their usage. Sure, manufacturers can always make the screens bigger and the pixel count denser, but there’s a point where that no longer makes a significant difference. At least, not until we upgrade the human eye.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 has managed to push some new features into the popular smartphone range that have got tech-hungry touchscreen fondlers pretty excited, however. But will these features have any impact on the games we’ll be playing this time next year?
“Leveraging the latest features is always a good idea,” says LavaMind’s Naomi Kokubo. “We’ll do it if we can come up with a mind-blowing concept that works with our game mechanics to make it more fun for players and not just a gimmick.”
A fascinating aspect of the S4 is that it’s not just about how you look at the screen; the device is now looking back at you. Using its forward-facing camera, the new Galaxy handset incorporates a low-level eye-tracking function so it can respond to your field of vision. Quite whether this could be used as a gaming mechanic is thus far untested, but it’s an interesting concept, as Kokubo explains.
“Eye-tracking is pretty cool,” she says, “especially when it comes action/arcade games. There are a lot of possibilities for how to potentially use it to move a character through a game. I can imagine eye-controlled gaming being amazing, but also potentially frustrating. We’ll see! I can’t wait to try it out.”
FrozenGun’s Andreas von Lepel agrees, and does so with a wry smile. “I’ll definitely look into the eye-tracking feature,” he quips, “for future installments of my game Freeze!. Imagine a way to control the rolling, jumping and, unfortunately, very often dying eyeball (our reluctant hero) by moving your own eyes. Seems to be a match made in hell for me!”
While it’s not always immediately practical for an established developer to create games for a specific handset – as Handy Games’ CEO Christopher Kassulke highlights, “Producing titles exclusively only for one device is dangerous but if the market is big enough I think we can consider it,” – Keith Pichelman of Concrete Software astutely points out that a small, indie dev might be able to target this niche function quite effectively. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see a number of smaller budget companies and individuals create something novel,” he says.
Perhaps the most talked about new hardware function of the S4 is its extended use of near-field communication (NFC) technology. Over the last couple of years, NFC has been talked about primarily for object scanning and contact-less mobile payments, but the new Galaxy smartphone is clearly looking to push this easy-to-use communication system into the gaming arena.
“Device-to-device communication is the next big leap in gaming,” Naomi Kokobu continues. “Making it easier for people to casually play person-to-person games is a huge win for gamers. I can imagine assassin-type games on college and high school campuses using NFC.”
Further to this, Samsung evidently has plans to push NFC beyond device-to-device, and has quietly introduced a first-part joypad peripheral that hooks up to suitably-equipped handsets seamlessly and wirelessly. Despite the Game Pad being a simple accessory that many have tried before, harnessing the S4′s powerful NFC ability will bring arcade gaming to touchscreens as never before.
So what’s the general consensus? Is the Galaxy S4 the gamer’s new go-to device? “It sets the bar higher,” Kokubo says. “Others will follow, and that’s a good thing. The evolution of mobile gaming is in its infancy, and these features are a logical next step. We can’t wait to get our hands on the S4 and play with it!”
“With the huge success of the Galaxy S3 and the resolution, size and quality improvements included for the S4, it will make it the Android gaming platform to build for,” agrees Keith Pichelman. “We’ll include it in our early stage testing and optimizing to make sure we create the best gaming experience possible on the S4.”
“We already provide high quality titles and the display resolution is an important part of a great user experience,” concludes Christopher Kassulke. “So of course we will see more and more better looking games. I think [the S4] can bring great value to the Android gaming arena.”
Your thoughts in the comments section, please.