You’re probably looking to purchase a new phone, either for yourself, a loved one or a friend. And you want to know if an iPhone is good enough for the gaming scene. So let me answer the following question for you: Are iPhones good for gaming?
Your Answer Up Front:
An iPhone is one of the very best smartphones to play games on. Even an older iPhone can run the most intensive modern games out there, as long as said iPhone supports the latest iOS operating system. New Games tend to release first on iPhones and iPhones also tend to have more premium games releases than Android. Due to the fact that iOS devices use similar chipsets, there are less performance variations from device to device and less device fragmentation. iPhones also benefit from around 7 years of support and OS updates.
In this editorial, we’re going to look at this topic through various lenses, from general reasons why people prefer iPhone for gaming, to the games themselves, their graphical qualities, the hardware, price of games and support.
General questions and answers about gaming on iPhones
Why do gamers use iPhones?
This is not a iPhones are better than other android phones discussion. However, some type of gamers prefer to use iPhones instead of Android Phones. Why?
One of the reasons behind this is the fact that on iOS, there are a lot more Premium Smartphone Games available, vs on Android. It’s not because the phone is better but due to the fact that iPhones are more expensive than the average Android Phones. Which, in turn, means the owners of the phone have a bit more disposable income.
If you are a gamer looking to play more Premium (non free 2 play, non freemium, no ad based) games, the iPhone might be a better choice for you. The reason behind this is that premium games with an upfront cost tend to have a much bigger production value.
While Android has gaming specific phones (like the Asus RoG 5 phone), most android phones out there are low-end to mid tier phone. And the variety of android hardware can be considered a downside to development for it. If you’re targeting the iPhone for a premium game, you have about 7 to 8 different, yet extremely similar, chipsets and gpu’s to target, while on android there are tons of them. It makes it easier to optimise a game for iPhones vs Android.
Does iPhone have the better games?
Some games tend to release first for iOS, especially premium titles. The reason behind this is due to a strict business mindset. It’s cheaper and easier to develop for the iPhone first and then port to Android devices.
Some games release exclusively for the iPhone or for Apple Arcade and due to the contracting deals – they never release on android. A good example is Oceanhorn 2. The initial game, Oceanhorn is available on Android, while Oceanhorn 2 is exclusively available for iOS via an Apple Arcade Subscription.
However most games are available cross platform, with the caveats previously mentioned. If you want access to the latest and greatest games as they release, an iPhone might be a better deal than Android.
Do iPhone games have better graphics?
iPhone games can have better and more consistent graphics than the same game on android devices. This is due to the fact that hardware, operating system and graphical API’s for the iPhone are developed by the same company.
Think of it this way – on android there are tens of gpu’s and cpu’s that need to be supported. In order to make sure the game runs on as many android devices as possible, graphics need to be either tuned down or target the middle-ground. And in some cases, certain graphical features vary between devices or are disabled completely.
Are iPhone games more expensive?
Sometimes yes, premium games or free games with in-app purchases tend to have a higher prices on iOS than their Android counterparts. Developers and publishers know that iPhone owners tend to have more disposable income on their hands and can afford to pay a “premium”.
Advantages of using an iPhone for gaming
Now that we’re passed the most common questions related to iPhone for gaming, let’s dive a bit deeper into it. if you are to buy an iPhone to game on, what advantages would you have?
7 years of OS Updates and support
Some people don’t consider this to be important but it really is. If you buy an iPhone today – you can expect to be able to use it and game on it for at least 7 years, and that’s if you bought the phone at the very end of it’s shelf life. Apple supports iPhones for 7 years since they stop selling the model – that is, servicing it (fixing it) and offering OS updates.
Currently iOS version is iOS 15.2 and the operating system is currently available on phones as old as the iPhone 6S and the iPhone SE (first generation) launched in 2015.
OS Updates are important, as outlined in our “Why do my iOS games keep crashing” post. Through OS updates new capabilities and api’s are introduced to the operating system. This could allow for new effects or better optimised features for your phone. If new games start using the new features but they are not available for your phone due to the fact that the phone stop receiving updates well – the new games might not be playable on that phone. This is why we rank OS updates as a huge huge advantage for iPhone gaming.
Just to compare things – the average support for an android phone is around 2 to maybe 3 years of OS updates. In some cases, some Android phones never receive any OS updates, the manufacturer opting to release a new handset and keeping the new OS version as a way of forcing people to upgrade.
Older iPhones still pack a punch
Old, still supported, iPhones are cheaper to buy Refurbished than Android phones with similar performance. You can buy an iPhone XR via Apple’s Certified Refurbished Program for $419, unlocked (and no, that’s not an affiliate link. We don’t make any money from linking you to Apple’s website). Here’s a synthetic benchmark that compares the iPhone XR ($419) to a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra:
The Samsung S21 Ultra was released in January 2021 and currently sells for a price of around $1000 with discounts as low as $599 (no, we’re still not doing affiliate links). Still more expensive than the good old iPhone XR which, was released in 2018.
So you can get a device that pretty comparable in terms of performance with a flagship-like android phone for less money straight from apple. Other sources can get you even better prices.
But, I hear you scream – the multi core score for the S21 Ultra is 50% higher than on the iPhone XR! Yes, it’s true – but how many smartphone games do you now that really use multiple cores? Not that many – with single core speed being usually, but not always, more important. And the iPhone XR’s single core score is higher than the ultra’s.
But, you scream again – the GPU score is higher on the S21 ultra. And here – you are right. The problem is, we can’t really compare it that much. A better GPU is always better for gaming however, iPhones have another huge advantage that can lower the GPU score difference:
Apple makes the Operating System and Graphical API’s (Metal) for their iPhones
I cannot stress this enough. A single company is directly responsible for the hardware, the operating system of that hardware and the rendering api’s available for that hardware. It’s not like with Google designing an operating system that should run on multiple phones with those phones having their own implementation of the rendering api specs.
The way it works with iPhones is that they all have the same features, newer ones just doing it better (aka more faster than older ones). The Metal rendering api that most iOS games target was specifically designed for that hardware. It doesn’t have to guess what features are supported and it’s better optimised for that hardware. This makes what seems to be a phone with lesser hardware specs be able to run a game just as good, or better than a more performant device. Like it’s the games with the S21 Ultra and the iPhone XR.
So, are iPhones good for gaming?
iPhones are one of the very best smartphones to play games on. Even an older iPhone can run the most intensive modern games out there, as long as said iPhone supports the latest iOS operating system. New Games tend to release first on iPhones and iPhones also tend to have more premium games releases than Android. Due to the fact that iOS devices use similar chipsets, there are less performance variations from device to device and less device fragmentation. iPhones also benefit from around 7 years of support and OS updates.
Where to next?
Thank you for reading our article! We hope we managed to answer your iPhone for gaming related questions. If you want to stick around and read some more related articles, why not check out our “Why are my iPhone games crashing” post that might be of use to you if you end up buying an iPhone for gaming. Or, if you own a mac, you can check out our “How to play iOS games on a Mac” article.
Thank you for reading our Best Smartphone Games blog. We strive to make mobile gaming a better place for everyone – from developers to gamers!