Skip to main content

Carmack: iPhone 3GS Can Run id Tech 5

The Apple iPhone 3GS doesn't differ greatly from its predecessor, at least not in current functionality. In fact, the 3GS looks almost identical to the 3G model from the exterior. Internally, though, it's an entirely more capable set of hardware.

While the faster chips inside the 3GS won't make your Twitter app any prettier, the upgraded hardware truly shines in games. The 3GS is far more capable in rendering graphics thanks to its new processor and graphics chip. This, however, leaves game developers with a bit of a dilemma.

Naturally, developers like to make games for the largest install base thanks to the audience and the wallets that each member carries. It's a business decision, of course, as there’s no doubt that the added power of the 3GS gives developers a lot more room to play with.

John Carmack, lead programmer at id Software, expressed concerns that the improved capabilities of the latest iPhone model will segment the market into the haves and have-nots.

Inevitably, software advances along with hardware, with one growing in features and the other getting more powerful to support the entire system.

"One, the worry is--and it's still not clear that this will be a problem, [but] left to their own, OS and software companies, whether it's Apple or Microsoft, they tend to just put more and more features into each release," Carmack said to Shacknews in an interview. "And for a given hardware platform, it just gets slower and slower with each new OS update."

As with how it works in many computer systems, more computing power is added to support new software features – which explains the iPhone 3GS. Carmack, normally one to embrace the growth of computing power, said that such an approach is wrong for the iPhone.

"We are trying very, very hard to convince Apple that this not the direction they should be going on the iPhone, because we expect that every time somebody upgrades an iPhone to a 2G to a 3G to a 3GS, the old device becomes an iPod for somebody else, and we think that they stay in play there," Carmack said, adding that he’s more excited "to see Apple have 50 million baseline spec systems out there than the latest and greatest hardware."

That’s not to say that he's not interested in doing new and cool things with the hardware. In fact, he proclaims, "now I am very excited about what I can do from a hardware and graphics standpoint with the 3GS. With vertex fragment shaders and OpenGL 2.0, I'm pretty convinced that I can actually run the MegaTexture id Tech 5 content creation pipeline on there. And I'm not sure what game I want to do that with yet, but the combination of seeing people download 700mb files of Myst on there, and the new capabilities, I could do some mind-blowingly cool stuff on there."

As with the introduction of a new gaming platform, there is always the difficult transition period between generations. Perhaps the difficulties developers are facing with the iPhone is that the next one is here just two years after the original launched, which is a much shorter lifecycle as compared to both consoles and handheld systems.