I'm not a gamer but I was impressed when OnLive CEO Steve Perlman showed me L.A. Noire and several other games running on an Android tablet over the Verizon 4G network. I also saw them running on an iPhone, iPad and other Android devices connected via 4G, Wi-Fi and -- in some cases -- even a slower 3G cellular network.
While I don't know much about gaming, I do know something about cloud technology and I'm quite impressed at how OnLive has been able to stream games even better than Netflix streams movies. To date, the experience has mostly been through PCs and Macs or TVs via a $99 TV adapter, but by opening up to phones and tablets, they are expanding not just the market but the venues where people can play. Through mobile devices, people can play wherever they are and whenever they have a few minutes to spare.
Wireless controller connects to mobile device via Bluetooth
What all Android and iOS devices have in common is a touch screen interface that works well for some games but not others. To that end, OnLive is offering an optional ($49.99) Bluetooth controller similar to the ones used on dedicated game consoles.
For optimal performance, the devices should be used via Wi-Fi but they can be used on 4G networks or -- with some games -- somewhat slower 3G networks. iPhones and iPads only work on 3G unless you have an optional external 4G adapter such as the MiFi unit that uses a 4G network to create a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The power is on the network, not the device
There is nothing new about playing games on mobile devices. There are thousands of games for the iPhone and Android, but most are fairly simple from a processing standpoint. For graphic or processor intense games you typically need a dedicated console like the XBox, Wii or PlayStation or a pretty powerful PC. But OnLive gets around that by running the game on its servers so that the device -- be it a PC, tablet or phone -- is simply the terminal or "thin client" that provides the user interface. The processing power of the device matters to a small extent (an iPad 2 will deliver somewhat better performance than a slightly slower first generation iPad) but the most important factor is the speed of the network which is why the company recommends Wi-Fi or a 4G mobile connection.
Other OnLive games that will run on the mobile devices include Batman Arkham City, Saints Row and Dirt 3. The service offers a variety of pricing plans including an "all you can play" option and the ability to purchase specific games.
LA Noire is one of several console/PC games you can now play on mobile devices
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