In a surprising move, OnLive today announced the availabilty of an app for Apple’s iPad. Dubbed the OnLive Viewer, the free application allows users to spectate games being played on the OnLive service. A version of the app for the Android operating system is currently in beta, and was demonstrated on a Samsung Galaxy Tab.

This may not be the full game-playing version of the service iPad owners are likely hoping for, but it is a start, and more is planned for the app in the future. Though there are obvious interface issues to overcome before games can be made available, OnLive is dedicated to doing so, and the press release expressly states, “Full game play capability and more complete integration with mobile device features will be supported in future versions. ”

Spectating OnLive games has proven to be a surprisinly popular feature of the service, and would seem to translate well to mobile tablets. In addition to viewing any live games as they are being played, the OnLive Viewer app will allow users to rate Brag Clips (10 second videos that OnLive players have previously uploaded). Live chat and “friending” is also supported by the app.

The Viewer has already demonstrated potential beyond merely spectating games. In much the same way that the OnLive service is capable of streaming high-end games to less-capable devices, so too is it able to deliver high end, taxing applications to those same devices. To that end, OnLive Founder and CEO Steve Perlman demonstrated Autodesk Maya (an extremely powerful 3D modeling, rendering, and animation program) running in the Viewer. Flash and Silverlight enabled high-speed web-browsing, as well as Microsoft Windows 7 Touch, were also demonstrated running in the Viewer on both an iPad and a Galaxy Tab. Perlman had this to say about the app:

“The OnLive Viewer mobile App is the last piece of the puzzle to unify the worlds of TV, computing and mobile all under one real-time cloud-based platform, enabling previously inconceivable experiences, capabilities and live, video-rich social interaction.”

“Today we showed the tip of the iceberg for what you’ll be seeing from OnLive, delivering high-performance gaming, entertainment, enterprise and Web applications wherever and whenever people want them, on virtually any device.”

Again, the lack of any actual gaming support at the launch of the app is disappointing, and frankly a bit puzzling. Why not hold the app until at least some games are supported? More likely than not, the company wanted to time the announcement of the Viewer to coincide with the release of its MicroConsole, which began shipping on December 2, 2010.

Still, the potential here is obvious. Though it is difficult to imagine a truly workable solution to bringing PC FPS titles to a touchscreen interface, other genres (say, racing or real time strategy) face fewer obstacles. More than that, OnLive is actively pursuing a future where the experience of interacting with technology trancends the limits of the technology itself. It’s an enormously exciting proposition, though it’s up to OnLive to prove that it can deliver on these admittedly ambitious promises.

Ranters, what are your thoughts? Have you downloaded the free viewer? How well do you think cloud-based gaming will work on a mobile tablet?

tags: iPad, OnLive

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