The iPad’s most striking feature is its large touch screen, but for most apps, that boils down to more real estate for menus, information or video. In video games, the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen shines as an input device in ways that the iPhone and iPod Touch never could.
This became most apparent to me, oddly enough, while playing some iPhone games pixel-doubled to fill the iPad screen. Suddenly, it seemed like I had an unfair advantage. I was slaughtering deadly viruses in Nano Fighter, a fast-paced shooter that uses virtual joysticks to steer your vessel and fire. I could neatly stack blocks in Topple 2. Jupiter Lander for the Commodore 64 app (free today, by the way) no longer seemed impossible.
For video games that require button-like input, the iPhone’s touch screen is a concession. Sure, it makes tower defense and card games more fun, but any attempts to demand precise input or emulate a game console controller lead to frustration.
The iPad is a major improvement simply because it allows for better accuracy. For button-based games, it’s not perfect, in the same way that the iPad’s virtual keyboard can’t replace the feel a physical one, but like the keyboard, it’s a vast improvement over anything with a sub-4-inch screen.
The iPhone’s advantage remains its accelerometer. You don’t gain any accuracy by twisting and turning the iPad in a racing game, and it feels clumsier and nerdier to do so. But the iPad makes the most compelling case for touch-based controls I’ve seen yet.