iOS 8.1 Now Available

Still no good news for Bluetooth MFi controller owners

The first major update for iOS 8 is here: 8.1 is now officially available for all devices capable of running iOS 8.

8.1 brings Apple Pay, allowing owners of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus I use their devices as virtual credit cards both in-store and online. In addition to bringing added convenience, there are many security improvements inherent in this approach.

For gaming, the news isn’t so good. The horrible Bluetooth disconnects associated with MFi controllers on previous versions of iOS 8 still remain. In addition, 8.1 fixes the loophole that allowed GBA4iOS to run, meaning no more emulation - at least not GBA emulation - without a developer account.

Users with iOS 8 will probably want to upgrade to iOS 8.1 anyways, as the stability fixes are probably worth it. Users of iOS 7 with Bluetooth MFi controllers are advised to steer clear, at least for now. The experience of using them on iOS 8 is not pleasant.

Logitech PowerShell Removed from Logitech's Homepage

The Logitech PowerShell, the first MFi controller ever announced and the second one made available, has been removed from Logitech’s homepage. This follows removal from the Apple Store a few months back, and likely signals the phasing out of the product.

If you’re primarily using an iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, or iPod Touch, and you want a pocketable controller that will double your battery life, there has never been a better chance to grab one for cheap. The PowerShell is currently available for $29.99 on Amazon, likely in limited supply. My advice: grab it now if you want it.

Link: IGN Reviews the MOGA Rebel

IGN put together a good review of the MOGA Rebel controller. And unlike Gizmodo, IGN discussed the bluetooth disconnect issue on iOS 8 in their review, meaning that they must have spent at least a little time actually using the controller before writing the review - always a good sign.

I’m still working on my review, but frankly, I want to wait until I have access to the iOS8 bluetooth issue is fixed, as any current review would be fairly straightforward: don’t buy ANY bluetooth iOS controller if you’re on iOS 8.

Apple Announces iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3

At their big event today, Apple officially announced the long-awaited iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3, along with a 5K Retina iMac and upgraded Mac Mini.

The new iPads are the most relevant to the focus of this site, so I’ll spend some time talking about them here. Luckily, unlike with last year’s iPads and this year’s iPhones, the decision of which model to get this time is very simple.

iPad Air 2 image AfterPad MFi gaming screenshot

The iPad Air 2 - A Gaming Powerhouse

No two ways about it, the iPad Air 2 is a gaming powerhouse. The A8X chip represents a 2.5x improvement over the previous model - in other words, a 250% performance improvement. The display maintains a 2X pixel density, rather than upping it to 3X, meaning all of the extra graphics horsepower goes directly to improving gaming performance.

The previous generation of iPads, the iPad mini 2 and iPad Air, were at a performance disadvantage compared to the iPhone 5S. They shared the same A7 chip, but due to the need to power a drastically larger screen, their GPUs had less energy to put towards gaming. That meant games ran smoother or looked better on the phone than they did on the tablet.

The new iPad Air 2 rectifies that situation. The A8X GPU apparently offers twice the performance of the standard A8 GPU, likely due to increasing the core count from 4 to 6. Considering that the screen of the iPad has a little over 3 times the number of pixels as the iPhone 6, we should be looking at a new iPad that actually performs comparably to the iPhone from the same year - a situation we haven’t seen for several years.

It’s worth noting that we have a different story with the iPhone 6 Plus. The Plus powers twice as many pixels as the regular iPhone 6, but does not feature an upgraded GPU, meaning it performs almost half as well as the iPhone 6 and the iPad Air 2.

The iPad mini 3 - A Very Mini Upgrade

Then we come to the iPad mini 3, and the story changes pretty drastically. Simply put, it looks like the only thing new about the new mini is the gold paint job and the Touch ID sensor. The processor is last year’s A7 - not even a standard A8 chip, as I was expecting. Performance should be identical, though perhaps they managed to clock the chip a bit higher, as they did with last year’s iPad Air. If we’re lucky, they managed to upgrade the display from last year’s desaturated model to the true sRGB-accurate display on the iPad Air and iPad 4 line.

Apple didn’t even upgrade the Wifi in the iPad mini 3 to 802.11ac like they did with the new Air, meaning the iPad mini 3 still maxes out at 802.11n. This will eventually be noticeable for Airplay gaming quality when Apple finally releases an 802.11ac-capable Apple TV (I’m still a little sad today wasn’t the day for that).

To be fair, last year’s iPad mini 2 was a great product. It’s only major weaknesses - a little bit too heavy and a slightly desaturated screen - may very well have been solved with this year’s model. But it wasn’t a device that was particularly well suited for gaming. Sadly, it still isn’t.

Final Thoughts

There is still quite a bit unknown about these new iPads, much of which we’ll learn as they start getting into the hands of reviewers. Was the RAM upgraded? Is the screen on the iPad mini 3 still desaturated? Are there any other performance improvements in the A8X chip, maybe related to AirPlay encoding? We’ll see the answers to those questions soon, but for now, the conclusion is still pretty straightforward.

If you want to buy an iPad for gaming, you should buy the iPad Air 2. Period. It’s over two-and-a-half as powerful as any other iPad, including the new iPad mini 3.

There. If only Apple made all of our decisions that easy…

Link: Apple October Event Livestream Now Available

The live video stream of Apple’s iPad (and who knows what else!) event is now online. Tune in on your iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, or computer to watch Tim Cook and company reveal the last of what Apple has planned for this holiday season!

You can read my predictions for the event, though it seems I’m already wrong about the new iPad names. Still, fingers crossed for a gaming Apple TV…

Thoughts on Apple’s October iPad Event

With Apple set to take the stage in California tomorrow to discuss… something… at 10 AM, it feels like now’s as good a time as any to throw my hat into the prediction ring. I nailed it last time, but that was a relatively easy event to predict. This one is a little trickier, as there have been very few leaks. But anyways, here goes.

The iPads

New iPad Air

This is the gimme, as there are significant parts leaks already. There will be a new Air, with a similar form factor to the current air, possibly with the removal of the Silent Switch (current leaks don’t show one). It will feature an A8X chip and 2 gigabytes of ram, both of which should provide a noticeable improvement in day-to-day tasks.

An “X” series GPU might imply significantly improved gaming performance. Unless, of course, the screen resolution increases. And that brings me to the next prediction: the new Air will ship with a 3X Retina HD screen. Unlike with the iPhone 6 Plus, I’m expecting this to be a true 3X screen, as the pixel density of the iPad Air is lower than that of the iPhone line.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that the GPU in the A8X will likely be the same design as the one in the standard A8, but with 2 extra cores, bringing an additional 50% performance boost to the already 50% faster A8 chip. That means the GPU in the new iPad Air will be twice as powerful as the current generation A7’s GPU. Considering that a 3X iPad display would have about 7 million pixels to power, and the current iPad Air’s 2X display has about 3 million pixels, you can expect roughly similar graphics performance between the two models. Apple could go all-out and use an 8 core GPU with the new Air, which would result in a roughly 50% performance boost compared with last year’s model. But when has Apple ever gone all-out for gamers?

Also, this new iPad will probably just be referred to as the new iPad Air. No numbers - I’m not sure why other websites keep referring to it as the iPad Air 2, but Apple didn’t work this hard to remove version numbers from the iPad just to add them back again.

New iPad Mini

Apple will ship another iPad Mini, despite the fact that fewer parts have leaked from it. The Mini is very likely Apple’s best selling iPad, and there is zero chance they have this event without one. Again, other websites keep claiming there won’t be a Mini, and again, I have no idea what those writers are smoking. There will be a new Mini, it will just be called the new iPad Mini - no version numbers, no “spring release”, none of that nonsense the rumor sites report.

As for what’s inside the Mini, this is where it gets interesting. I predict that the new Mini will NOT ship with a 3X screen. Apple wants to keep the price down on this product, and the pixel density of the current iPad Mini Retina is sharper than the Air, so a resolution boost is less necessary. That doesn’t mean the screen won’t be improved, however. Expect the Mini to get full sRGB coverage this time, which means it won’t suffer from the muted colors the current Mini exhibits compared to the bigger Retina iPads.

Without the 3X display, I expect the new Mini will ship with a standard A8 chip (possibly with 2 gigabytes of ram), rather than the A8X. That should give it about a 50% gaming performance gain compared with the current Retina Mini, which should be a nice update for gamers. Interestingly, if my predictions about the new iPad Air hold true, that would make the new Mini a better performing gaming tablet than the new Air.

It is possible that the new Mini could ship with an A8X chip and / or a 3X retina display. If it ships with just the A8X and the same 2X display, expect it to be a gaming powerhouse. If it ships with just a 3X display and a standard A8 GPU, gamers should avoid it.

High-End iPad Designs

In terms of design, I’d expect the new iPad Air and iPad Mini to look and feel similar to the iPhone 6 line. Rounded glass, Touch ID, aluminum designs, all the usual suspects. I’m expecting a gold option this year, but then again, I’m still surprised we didn’t get one last year. The camera could be updated to 8 megapixels, which could result in a camera bump on the rear, as on the iPhone 6 - I tend to think the iPad won’t get a camera bump, but I’m not sure either way.

I keep hearing rumors that the rotation lock / silent switch is going away. I hope not, as I use it to lock and unlock rotation constantly, but it wouldn’t be a huge shock either way. Volume buttons will probably be recessed to match the iPhone design. Power and volume buttons will likely not be moved to match the iPhone 6, as doing so would get in the way of the Smart Covers.

Low-end iPad Mini

Here we get to the big question: what happens to the old iPads? The current iPad Air and iPad Mini are excellent devices - do they really get pulled off the market completely? What happens to the iPad 4 and non-retina iPad Mini? They’re getting a bit old, but might still be good enough, and are likely big sellers. I haven’t read much speculation about these guys, so I’ll stick my neck out there with a few predictions.

Let’s start with my easiest possibility for Apple: the current Retina iPad Mini drops in price $100 to start at $299. It’s still a great device, and I don’t see it going anywhere. It would easily be the best tablet available at that price.

As for the non-retina Mini, my gut feeling is that it should probably be discontinued, but that it won’t be. The A5 chip was excellent, but Apple has thus far done a bad job at optimizing iOS 8 for it. Apple has a tendency to keep hardware alive for too long, and I expect to see the non-retina Mini stay alive on life support at $249 as a budget model. I’d like to see Apple either kill the A5 line entirely or spend some effort optimizing iOS 8 for it, but that might be a little optimistic.

Low-end iPad Air / iPad 4

The larger iPad presents a more interesting challenge for Apple in terms of product positioning. They could kill the current iPad Air and leave the iPad 4 at it’s current price, keeping $399 the lowest price for a 10 inch iPad, and keeping the Air as a premium priced product. They could keep both iPads, dropping the price of the current iPad Air to $399 and the iPad 4 to $299 or $349. They could also kill the iPad 4 and drop the current Air to $399, keeping the 10 inch model at a starting price of $399 and eliminating a legacy product.

Honestly, I have no clue which of those they’ll do. Unlike with the non-retina Mini, there is no real reason to kill the iPad 4. It’s an excellent device with a beautiful screen and smooth performance. It’s running an A6X chip, and Apple is definitely not trying to phase out the A6 line yet, as the iPhone 5C still runs one. The problem with the iPad 4 is one of design - it’s a big, bulky product by modern iPad standards. Apple doesn’t like to keep big and bulky around any longer than they have to.

My gut feeling is they keep the iPad 4 and the iPad Air, notching the prices for both down $100, but none of the above possibilities are unreasonable.

Low-end Design

Here we get to the interesting part of the low end iPad question. Will Apple special-make a low cost design to differentiate the previous generation iPads from the newer ones? In other words, will we see an iPhone 5C-style plastic makeover for the current generation A7-powered iPads?

To me, this all comes down to whether or not the new iPads will look and feel more “premium” than the current iPad Air and iPad Mini models. If there’s not enough design differentiation between them, Apple could intentionally separate the lines by putting one in a distinctly mid-market case, thus driving people up to the “premium metal” newer models.

My guess? Probably not this year. I think the rounded glass and Touch ID sensors are enough to make the new iPads a clear design improvement over the old ones, and Apple will not want to bifurcate design too strongly by shipping a line of plastic devices yet. However, I think it is quite likely that we’ll see plastic shelled iPads next year.

The iPod Touch

The A5 chip in today’s iPod Touch does a truly terrible job of running iOS 8, and really should be refreshed. I think it’s quite possible we’ll see such a refresh tomorrow, updating the internals to the A6 chip at least.

Apple could really go all-out on the iPod Touch line, positioning a line of them with the new screen sizes and design language of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus, including Touch ID, even including iPad style cellular. It wouldn’t shock me completely to see Apple really re-invest in the iPod Touch line and make it a first-class iOS device. If they did that, I have a feeling they’d kill the iPod Touch name entirely, instead calling the line iPad Nano or Micro or something like that.

There’s also the far more likely outcome that the above is fan-fiction, and the iPod Touch gets either no update at all or a simple chip swap for the A6.

The 12 inch iPad Pro

I really doubt it. The iPad is a mobile device, and I don’t think 12 inches is mobile enough for Apple. If this rumor was true, I would be legitimately surprised.

The Apple TV

This is the big one. What happens to Apple’s diminutive little hockey puck, the Apple TV. The iPhone 4S without the screen. Does it finally grow into a real game console? It’s going to happen someday, that much is guaranteed. But is it coming tomorrow? And if an update does come tomorrow, what will it look like? There are a few possibilities:

The First Possibility: No Update

First, and certainly not unlikely, Apple could do absolutely nothing with the Apple TV tomorrow. If Apple wants to launch a full-fledged Apple TV update next spring, they won’t bother touching it tomorrow. They might even wait until next September or October to update the Apple TV. It’s certainly possible, though it feels lazy, and would mean the Apple TV loses out on several important features.

The Second Possibility: A Minor Refresh

Apple doesn’t have to launch a true next-gen Apple TV tomorrow. Perhaps the content deals aren’t in place yet, perhaps they can’t get parts in the quantities needed for this year. Apple could launch a minor refresh of the Apple TV tomorrow. Maybe the Apple TV gets the A6 processor, 802.11ac wireless, perhaps an h265 decoder for improved AirPlay and video quality.

If this minor refresh happens, it signals that Apple is at least a year away from being able to launch native gaming on the Apple TV. They wouldn’t launch this update tomorrow if they had a bigger update planned for spring. All is not lost for gaming, though - The improvements 802.11ac, h265, iOS 8, and the iPhone 6 bring to AirPlay video quality are pretty monumental. Expect AirPlay-based gaming to be dramatically improved over the current devices, which are already significantly better under iOS 8 than they were under iOS 7. I’d buy this product the day it hits the shelf.

The Third Possibility: A Full-Fledged Release

Is it time? Does Apple launch a game console tomorrow? Maybe it is. If Apple uses an A7 chip, there would be no problem at all with running games full-screen at reasonable frame rates. Metal is a game changing technology; Apple TV games built with it could easily rival those on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The iOS operating system provides easy portability between iPhones and iPads to the Apple TV, giving developers an straightforward path to porting from mobile and from traditional consoles. All existing Bluetooth MFi controllers are compatible, and Apple might even thrown into the ring with a controller of their own.

This is the update I’ve spent the last few years waiting for. This is the reason I launched AfterPad. The fully featured, A7-powered, MFi-controller-supporting Apple TV update with a full App Store and game development platform. For $99, the Apple TV becomes a full fledged, full HD game console powered by Apple’s incredible A7 - or even A8 - chip.

Perhaps there could even be two models, a 720p HD gaming device running the A7 and a 1080p HD gaming device running the A8, at a higher price point. The possibilities are huge.

This update is coming someday. It is inevitable, as components drop in price, and demand continues to build. Tomorrow might be the day. But there is another option.

The Fourth Possibility: A Stealth Update

Apple has another move here, short of releasing a full-fledged gaming console tomorrow: They release a full-fledged game console tomorrow, but don’t tell anyone about it. Perhaps they aren’t ready for the big software push, perhaps they want to wait on content providers to flesh out the TV channel selection before committing to a major Apple TV push. If that’s the case, they can easily launch an updated Apple TV still running the old interface and software, but fully capable of receiving a major software boost and App Store in the future.

I think this is absolutely a possibility. If Apple shows off an Apple TV revision with an A7 or A8 chip, it doesn’t matter what interface they show running on it - that’s a game machine, and it’s only a matter of time before the software catches up. The first iPhone shipped without the App Store; this isn’t unprecedented.

They could launch an A7-powered Apple TV tomorrow, and when Spring rolls around, they could launch the App Store. Perhaps alongside an A8-powered Apple TV model for $199, designed for 1080p output. We shall see.

Macs

There’s been a lot of talk of Macs at this event, but as this is mostly an iOS gaming blog, I’ll keep my thoughts more brief.

Retina MacBook Air

I think a Retina MacBook Air is unlikely, because I think Apple themselves killed the rumor. Apple has a way of leaking “sources familiar with the matter” saying that something isn’t happening if a rumored announcement starts to pick up steam before a major press event. This is how they manage expectations, and avoid disappointing everyone. That’s exactly what happened here, so I think this product is unlikely at this time.

Also, I have had some difficultly understanding what a Retina MacBook Air would look like that is different from the 13 inch Retina MacBook Pro. The Pro is as thin as it can get while still having enough battery life, and it’s already running weaker chips. If they could make it thinner and lighter while still keeping the Retina display, and enough battery and performance to drive that display, they’d have done that with the 13 inch Retina MacBook Pro. Not sure what people are hoping for here.

Retina iMac

The iMac is more interesting. There is a lot of smoke about a Retina iMac, and Apple hasn’t made any effort to put out the fire. I think this product is actually quite likely. Whether it’ll be the 21.5 inch model only, or the 27 inch model, is a bit more debatable, as building a 27 inch Retina display is still quite difficult (and actually impossible to make in an external display with today’s technology). There are too many variables with computers for me to speculate about what the internals will be here, but suffice it to say the screens would be gorgeous, and the computers will ship with enough horsepower to drive them, though not enough to be a top-flight gaming machine.

Mac Mini

The Mac Mini has gone over two years without a refresh. What the heck, sure, let’s say they’ll refresh it tomorrow. New chips and $100 cheaper wouldn’t be unreasonable. It’s a really cool computer, and it’s sad that Apple hasn’t put more into it.

Other Macs and Peripherals

It wouldn’t surprise me to see a handful of minor refreshes across the Mac line, perhaps processor bumps or price drops. Perhaps new keyboards, mice, trackpads - I don’t know, tons of things overdue for a refresh there, none of which Apple particularly cares about, but none of which would surprise me.

Software

Expect to see the formal release of OS X Yosemite at or near tomorrow’s presentation. There probably won’t be any new features from what beta testers have already been using - the Photos app is still a ways away, and iTunes has already been updated. Launching iOS 8 without Yosemite, despite iCloud being mostly incompatible between the two, shows how little Apple cares about the Mac these days. Absolutely inexcusable.

iOS 8.1 will probably be detailed more fully, for a possible release tomorrow or within the next week. For iPads, it might mean split-screen multitasking. Lots of rumors there, but I’m still not sure how they’ll do it. We shall see. Or not. I’m 50-50 on this one.

MFi Gaming News

Wouldn’t be an AfterPad post without a brief mention of MFi controller news. Apple might show off the list of available game controllers, stoke some enthusiasm for the program before the holidays. If there is a game playing Apple TV, Apple will almost certain mention the variety of controllers you can use with it. But barring a new Apple TV, I think any mention of controllers is unlikely.

Final Thoughts

I think tomorrow’s event is going to be a good one. Not as big as last month’s - very little could be - but noteworthy nonetheless. The iPad is Apple’s second biggest business, even if sales growth is slowing a big. The Mac is still a significant product line, and is long overdue for some updates.

But to me, the biggest thing tomorrow could bring is the Apple TV. This is the last leg of the chair. This is Apple’s next frontier. Pessimistically, I think it’s not coming tomorrow. But it could be, and that possibility is very exciting.

I’ll be watching live tomorrow on my Apple TV, hoping like hell to be replacing it with a better one.

Did Apple Just Reveal the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3?

Wait, seriously Apple? Are you trolling, or is this for real?

iPad mini 3 and iPad Air 2 revealed in iBook

It certainly seems like Apple just accidentally revealed their new iPads in the iOS 8 user guide iBook.

If this is true, no comment about Tim Cook “doubling down on secrecy”. But I will comment on those titles. Seriously, the numbers are back, but the iPad Air 2 gets a capitalized family name and the iPad mini 3 doesn’t? Come on.

Link: Gizmodo UK Reviews the Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i

Gizmodo UK posted a pretty nice review of the hardware aspect of Mad Catz’ new C.T.R.L.i. Sadly, it’s yet another review of a bluetooth MFi controller that doesn’t mention the crippling bluetooth disconnect issue that affects every single device running iOS 8.

This is a good hardware review, and is definitely worth a read for users of iOS 7, but that omission is a little strange for me. For iOS 8 users, you should not be buying ANY bluetooth MFi controllers right now. Despite my previous reports, iOS 8.1 does not appear to fix the disconnect problem, at least not as of the second beta.

Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i and Micro C.T.R.L.i Now Available on Amazon

Good news for MFi gaming fans: the long-anticipated Mad Catz CTRLi and Micro CTRLi controllers are now available for order on Amazon today!

Mad Catz CTRLi full-size image

The C.T.R.L.i is currently available only in black, though it will eventually be available in a full range of black, red, white, blue, and orange options. Presumably those will be available soon, though personally, I think I’d prefer the look of the black to the other colors anyways.

Also available is the Micro C.T.R.L.i - a slightly smaller version of the C.T.R.L.i with a little bit different build style. According to most people who’ve used both, the difference between the two is minimal, with the Micro version feeling far closer to a full-size controller than the pocketable Stratus design from SteelSeries.

Mad Catz Micro CTRLi full-size image

The Micro CTRLi is also available only in black at this time, though like the full-sized version, it will presumably be available in the full color range soon.

Both controllers are available in black on Amazon today. While the ship times are currently listed at between 2-5 weeks, many people have reported already receiving theirs.

I’ll have a full review of both controllers, as well as comparisons with the other available options, coming in the very near future.

Link: 'Apple sends out invites for Oct. 16 special event'

Apple, on Wednesday, sent out invitations for an upcoming event on October 16th, with the tagline “It’s been way too long”.

Apple Oct 16 iPad special event

Jim Dalrymple says:

As is normal with Apple invites, there are no clues as to what the company will talk about or introduce at the event. Given the huge event in September where the company unveiled new iPhones and the Apple Watch, I suspect this event will focus more on existing products.

Read More

It’s pretty much a given that this event will include new iPads, likely running on the new A8 chip, including TouchID, and featuring a more refined design reminiscent of the iPhone 6 series.

New Macs are being bandied about as an option, but frankly, those are more beholden to Intel’s chip release schedule, and they have nothing particularly interesting in the upgrade department. Expect minor speed bumps or cosmetic tweaks for the Mac, if anything. Unless, of course, Apple is willing to launch a new portable, possibly a hybrid between the Air and the Pro. I doubt it, but people keep rumoring it. We shall see.

Also possible (and far more interesting to this audience): A new Apple TV. We’ve been waiting on an Apple TV with an App Store and game support for a long, long time now. It’s coming someday, no doubt about it. Could it be next week? Maybe.

Even if it’s a more minor speed bump to the Apple TV, it could potentially feature 802.11ac wireless and h265 video support. Both of those could lead to radically improved AirPlay support for beaming games from your iPhone to the Apple TV. Considering the massive improvements iOS 8 brought to AirPlay support, these benefits could take it even further towards across-the-board playability, and make even more games work great.

It’s also possible Apple will surprise us with something entirely new. The good news is, we have less than a week until we know - consider me excited.