Apple makes breaking technical boundaries look so effortless that it can be easy to discount just how much the company has moved the mobile device industry forward since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. In a recent interview with Games Industry, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney provides an interesting viewpoint on the advances represented in the iPhone and now the iPad.

As a close Apple partner, Epic has had its Infinity Blade series demonstrated in conjunction with the release of the last two iPads and worked with the company to optimize the games for its hardware. So Sweeney likely has a motive to be positive about Apple’s technology, but he’s also in a better place to know just how impressive its advancements have been than most.

When asked about his thoughts on the new iPad, Sweeney said “I’m continually astounded by Apple’s sheer will to push the industry forward. Apple is by far the leading phone provider in terms of profits or any other objective measure of how well they are doing.”

He mentions how easy it would be for Apple to keep churning out iPhones, doubtlessly making more profit from each device as it refined its manufacturing process. But instead, Sweeney says, “they push the technology forward as fast, or faster than possible to go from lower resolution displays.”

Apple has dragged display technology forward from 320×240 smartphone screens to the new iPad’s Retina display, which features more than 10x as many pixels. “They are going around to manufacturers saying “Build this device that no one has contemplated existing.”,” says Sweeney.

The result is advances in the industry that are far beyond a ‘natural’ cycle. Apple has forced its graphics and display vendors to produce parts that they didn’t plan on having to do for years yet in order to make the iPad happen. This has, in turn, forced other manufacturers to go into overdrive just to keep up.

“Any company that will sacrifice the opportunity to just sit back and profit, in order to expand the market to bring it into an entirely new direction,” Sweeney notes, “really stands out in the current age.”

Frankly, it’s all too simple to minimize the aggressive manufacturing and feature set advances of Apple through a sense of entitlement. A good piece by John Dick at The Tech Block discusses this tendency to be underwhelmed by the technology that Apple regularly drops on the public.

Imagine a person who’s underwhelmed by everything you tell him. You ran the mile in five minutes? Big deal. He doesn’t raise an eyebrow for anything over four. You scored a scholarship to Yale? Meh. Was Harvard full? You designed a new car that gets 100 miles to the gallon? Cool, but does it fly?

Odds are you wouldn’t associate with a person like that for very long…

And yet, it has become de rigueur for Apple enthusiasts and technology pundits to call the iPad and its technical steps forward ‘disappointing’, even in the face of overwhelming evidence otherwise, along with massive sales.

Sometimes its worth it to take a step back and look at a piece of technology like the iPad, which feels very ‘obvious’, and realize that as natural as it seems now, it’s actually very much ahead of its time.

The whole interview with Sweeney is well worth a read, you can catch it here at Games Industry.