Is the iPhone Ready to Take on Gaming?

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Not only did the iPhone serve RIM at the SDK event. But after Apple showcased the demos of Touch Fighter, Spore, and Super Monkey Ball on the iPhone, Nintendo and Sony better watch out as well. Game controls utilized the accelerometer and multi-touch while the graphics were displayed on that crystal clear screen--make no mistake--Apple is ready to revolutionize gaming.

With the early glimpses into the gaming capabilities of the iPhone, we've learned that:

  1. The possibilities are endless
  2. It looks really fun
  3. Apple has a potential gaming jackpot in their hands

If we have learned anything from the current console "war" between the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and the Nintendo Wii—consumers are more interested in buying the "fun" games as opposed to those that are graphically superior. At its bare minimum, gaming on the iPhone can be likened to a ridiculously advanced wii-mote. At its maximum potential? Quite possibly the best mobile gaming experience ever.

Earlier today Chad asked about what your favorite gaming experiences on the iPhone might be. But how will Apple deal with the business side of it? How can the iPhone conquer gaming? Find out after the jump.

Present State of Entertainment

As home entertainment becomes busier with multiple types of on-demand entertainment, there is little to no room on people’s TV stands. In a sense, to get a foot into the living room—there would have to be too much investment for such uncertain gain. Hence, the Apple TV has manifested into a ‘hobby’ unit because of the overcrowded entertainment stand. If we can compare this generation's gaming battle to a war, the living room would be its trenches where little to no room is actually gained.

However, portable gaming as a whole is on an upward rise. Sales of the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP almost always outpace those of their home console counterparts. With total sales of the DS approaching 70 million units worldwide and the PSP with around 25 million units. The global appetite for portable gaming is only beginning to be realized.

Still the portable market has yet to be conquered. People are carrying too many items around—phones, cameras, planners, gaming devices—only because there has yet to be a true all-in-one device. Before the SDK announcement, the iPhone could only realistically cover your phone, planner, and camera (to an extent). But now? If this is entertainment war, the iPhone should be likened to the A(pple)-Bomb.

Portable Gaming Today

Today's market of portable gaming consists of two titans. The behemoth of fun, the Nintendo DS and the sleek, cool Sony PSP. Comparatively speaking, they come from two different backgrounds. The PSP has a beautiful screen that the DS lacks but makes up for in a touchscreen. The PSP CPU is light-years faster than the DS, but the DS answers back with better games and an easier to learn experience. With these two portable gaming consoles dominating the market, it begs the question--is there room for one more?

Lets take a quick look at the processors and screen quality of all three devices and see where the iPhone stands in the pack.

Nintendo DS

Processor: two ARM CPUs @ 67MHz and 33MHz

Screen Resolution: (2) 256 x 192 pixels

Sony PSP

Processor: MIPS CPU @ 222 or 333MHz

Screen Resolution: 480 x 272 pixels

iPhone

Processor: ARM CPU @ 620MHz

Screen Resolution: 480 x 320 pixels

Using that as a rough barometer of gaming possibilities, we can see that the iPhone is perfectly capable of handling any game that the PSP runs sans ugly UMD and awkward analog stick. In fact, combining the more powerful CPU processor with OpenGL and Core Animation for developers, we truly have the capabilities for great looking games. But again, being more powerful than the next machine doesn’t guarantee victory. What does help however, is having a fun and unique experience.

So taking on the current king, the Nintendo DS, is crucial if Apple wants to walk away victorious. As Nintendo continues to raise the bar in fun gaming experiences, Apple is hot on their heels. Any game that involves touching, the iPhone can match and raise with its accelerometer. In fact, as Nintendo often suggests, touching is good, but as any iPhone users would say multi-touch is much better.

iPhone users really have the best of both worlds in their hands. Not only do they have a machine more powerful than the PSP but they also combine it with a gaming experience on par with the Nintendo DS. The iPhone (and to the same extent, the iPod Touch) certainly has the technological prowess to take the portable gaming market by storm. Include the fact that with Apple’s goal to sell 10 million iPhones by the end of the year and the onset of a 3G iPhone along with more potential carriers across the world, Apple certainly will have enough iPhones in people’s hands to make a dent in the gaming industry.

Where Can The iPhone Fit In?

Looking past the enormous fun-factor in all the games demoed at the SDK roadmap event (and boy, were they fun), we should note something much more important: how quickly the games were developed and how eager the developers are. If developing games for the iPhone was tough, even the most powerful system would squander its potential without the best developers on board. Luckily, the people over at EA and SEGA continually stressed the ease of developing games for the iPhone throughout the entire event. In fact, Sega likened creating games for the iPhone to creating games for any console. The iPhone has THAT much potential.

Using iTunes to promote the games will serve as the perfect billboard for developers. Mobile gaming (and products, for that matter) has never seen an outlet such as iTunes. Gone are the days of searching for fun games on your mobile carrier’s store and scouring versiontracker for the latest build, iTunes is a media outlet that has become near universal. Having your product on the pages of iTunes is on par with being on the shelves at Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

The iPhone’s true soul is being a blank slate—that principle reflects in its design. By building a powerful device from the ground up (that just so happens to be a phone, among other things)—the iPhone has made developers re-think mobile gaming. No longer are they confined to uncomfortably small buttons or screens with horrible resolution—they truly have their blank slate to go wild on.

What Will Apple Do?

But the question remains, does Apple really want to pursue Nintendo and Sony in portable gaming or are they satisfied with being just better than mobile phone gaming? I think the answer lies somewhere closer to challenging the DS and the PSP. They have the technology behind their device, developers already on board, and a cool and fun factor that neither Sony nor Nintendo could match. But if games provide to be too tough to develop (I doubt it) or end up being terrible (Again, I doubt it), Apple can easily back off and claim it never planned for the iPhone to be the next big thing in gaming.

Either way, it is an entirely win-win situation for Apple—portable gaming just adds to the near-perfect resume of the iPhone. Remember folks, the iPhone is already a great phone, the best mobile internet portal, and the best iPod—in one device. Asking it to be the best gaming device, might be a little too much, but that’s how high Apple has set the bar. And I think they just might reach it.

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iPhone Set to Star at WWDC '08

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There are 5 comments. Add yours.

TheyCallMeRyan says:

Games on the mac have been historically inferior to their console and PC counterparts (just look at -insert example here. no, seriously-). Will the iPhone be able to pull off what it's extended family members couldn't?

TheyCallMeRyan says:

Whoops, accidentally hit submit before I was finished.
And that hurdle aside, is the iPhone even suited to consider itself a full on gaming device? I'm a fan of the iPhone, precisely for how its revolutionized the mobile media market, but I'm just wondering if Apple might not be extending it's reach a big too far here? Simply put, I can't imagine a smooth multi-touch gaming experience. The touch function is neat and all on the DS, but even Nintendo was smart enough to realize that it served better as a sideshow as opposed to a feature presentation for more in-depth gaming experiences. Granted, games like WarioWare and Elite Beat Agents are certainly addicting, but after this generation of games, it starts to get a bit gimmicky, no? WarioWare2 and beyond will inevitably be rehashes of the same formula, which is why I feel like games more tied to traditional gaming elements (focusing more on gameplay, strategies, story, etc.) will always be able to find a market whereas games based solely on touch screens will suffer from a glass ceiling of sorts. This, of course, is just my opinion, but I believe this is ultimately the iPhone's biggest flaw as a potential gaming device--it will only be able to handle certain types of games, appealing to niche audiences instead of a wider one, thereby limiting its popularity and longevity. Of course, this is not to say that the iPhone won't move units based solely on its merits as a phone/music player/etc.
What does everyone else think?

celebgurl69 says:

I heard that Jirbo, Inc., who has been in Forbes and the Wall Street Journal recently, are planning 30 SDK games in 2008!!

marcol says:

...games based solely on touch screens will suffer from a glass ceiling of sorts.
You seem to have missed the accelerometer altogether. More Wii than DS, no?

jlai says:

Thorough write-up.. I'm excited about the possibilities of Super Monkey Ball on the go, but have reservations about how the battery life may be affected by graphic/processing power needed to utilize such applications. I guess we'll find out soon enough!