While it's not always easy to get sales data for mobile games, there's no denying their influence. Some extremely popular titles are played on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad. Consider:

  • King Digital (UNKNOWN:KING.DL) is expecting more than $2 billion in bookings from its social games. Candy Crush Saga is the second-highest-grossing iPad app as of this writing. A related game, Farm Heroes Saga, checks in at sixth.

  • Supercell's Clash of Clans ranks as the top-grossing iPad game right now. Hay Day ranks fourth. Combined, these two helped Supercell generate $2.4 million of in-app sales per day last year. The company's newest, Boom Beach, already ranks 10th.

A screenshot of the top-grossing iPad games as of Aug. 15, 2014. Source: Apple iTunes App Store.

Huge successes like these should serve notice that the iPad is a serious alternative for casual gamers. Is Apple doing enough to bring more like them to the platform? I think so.

Guesstimating the opportunity
There's plenty at stake. Last fall, Newzoo and AppLift performed a study that puts the tablet gaming market on track to grow 47.6% annually between 2012 and 2016, at which point total spending will reach $10 billion. (Smartphone gaming is expected to grow 18.9% annually, to $13.9 billion, over the same period.)

What would that sort of growth mean for Apple? My guess is $900 million in App Store fees. That's presuming the iPad still controls at least 30% of the tablet market come 2016, making it the target platform for some $3 billion in spending on mobile gaming. Add in the Mac maker's customary 30% cut and you've a $900 million windfall.

Heavy 'Metal'
To cash in on this, Apple needs more and better tools to help developers create iPad games. Metal is the company's answer. Here's a demo of the technology from EPIC Games founder Tim Sweeney.

Source: YouTube.

For me, the demo illustrates two things:

  1. Apple wants the iPad to be the best mobile screen you can buy. And why not? Signs point to users adopting mobile video in greater numbers. For example, TubeMogul says the total number of video ad auctions jumped 350% sequentially in Q1 as marketers try to tap into users' growing reliance on smartphones and tablets for video news and entertainment.

  1. Seely's comment that Metal helps the iOS 8 environment render 10 times faster suggests that Apple is committing to bigger, better, and more expansive apps and games for future iPads. Given Newzoo's findings, that's likely to be a smart move.

The Bigger Game
Longer term, I see Metal helping grow the iPad ecosystem and aiding tablet sales in the process. How big is that opportunity? Again, figuring its share at 30% of the market, Apple could end up selling about 77 million iPads this year vs. 31.9 million in fiscal 2013. Even if that's optimistic -- and it is, we can't bank on Apple doubling iPad sales -- the point is that a growing number of casual gamers are "Tablet First," as Clash of Clans maker Supercell likes to call it. From the company's website:

When Steve Jobs first introduced the iPad to a very skeptical world, he called it "magical."  We now know what he meant.  Our inspired vision is to create some magic of our own that lives up to the awesome potential of these wondrous devices.

No doubt Tim Cook would agree. With Metal, he and his team are adding to the enchantment.