iPhone – Future of Handheld Gaming

I discuss it, I slate it, I adore it in design but loathe it in function yet I cannot deny that the iPhone is king of the mobile phone world at the moment. My humble Google phone (or the G1 for those who know it personally) lies beaten in popularity by the behemoth from Apple and now if your phone can’t download useful apps and have a touch screen it’s nothing in the mobile world. Despite my dislikes of the technology, one thing I do find admirable is its positioning as a gaming platform.

iPhoneWhen it launched I discussed with friends and co-workers at the time that it could be the biggest threat that Nintendo ever faced in the handheld gaming market. This claim was perhaps slightly grand however when you look at the figures, it is not without merit. Whilst not a dedicated machine there are 40 million iPhones and iPod Touches out there at the moment and unlike the DS and PSP that figure is growing. The breadth of choice is admirable as well, with four thousand games marking a distinct move from the pathetic mobile gaming efforts of the Java era. Gone are the days when it was shovelware and licenced shovelware. Now titles like Super Monkey Ball and Crash Bandicoot aren’t just classics of the platform but enjoyable games in their own right. From those early titles we’ve moved onto increasingly sophisticated software with everything from online play, online integration (posting high scores instantly to Twitter), location recognition and increasingly impressive use of the touch screen and motion control. The titles using this are not just the simple puzzle games once thought to be the only game that could work on a mobile phone. Big name titles like Tiger Woods, a new Doom created solely by John Carmack and even ports of retro titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog are all on the platform and wouldn’t look out of place on the DS.

If not the past then the promise of what is to come will convince you of the gaming pedigree of the iPhone. Broadly speaking there are two main reasons why the future of the iPhone is the future of handheld gaming. The recent release of the OS 3.0 for the iPhone marked a significant increase in what is possible for gaming on the phone. Bluetooth functionality enables local multiplayer gaming and microtransactions now sit pride of place within the iPhone’s repertoire. The iPhone 3GS is the other reason why iPhone gaming is very much the future. A general speed increase aside, the addition of OpenGL ES 2.0 increases the graphical quality substantially and combined with the new OS marks not just a significant increase in the sophistication of the hardware but also shows that Apple sees the gaming potential behind the iPhone and is willing to support it. Perhaps most telling however is the timing. The iPhone 3G was released about a year after the original, and the 3GS is about a year after 3G. So just as you consider an upgrade, a new iPhone is about. Nothing unusual about that, but considering that the OpenGL 2.0 support means that you will start getting games that are potentially exclusive to the 3GS you could consider each iPhone a generational cycle similar to the 4-5 year cycle we have in console gaming. I had criticised the quick release of the 3GS for splintering the userbase, but if you consider it as a gaming platform then this is normal and indeed expected if the technology permits.

Most telling perhaps is that what I’m saying isn’t stretching. You can speak legitimately about the iPhone as a gaming platform using gaming terminology and it holds up, it feels like what we all love. Every year we hear the rumours that Apple are planning on getting into gaming and releasing a console. Well they already released one, it just happens to be disguised as a phone.







9 responses to “iPhone – Future of Handheld Gaming”

  1. Celeste avatar

    The first controller has just been made for the iPhone – GameBone Pro by Australian company 22moo. I think this speaks volumes regarding the way the iPhone has been embraced by both consumers and publishers. Not sure Nintendo needs to be too concerned, but a contingency plan sure wouldn’t hurt. Maybe some kind of slimline DS. Oh wait, they’ve done that. Ok, some kind of DS with a camera. Oh, right…

  2. The Rook avatar
    The Rook

    I’m still using a plain simple phone, but I did find the blog a good read. I’ve not played alot of mobile gaming, but the games do seem to be getting better.

    I had thought of getting an iPod Touch, but will wait to see what PSP Go is like.

  3. Tony avatar

    iPhone? I can’t see it catching on.

    *posting from his 3GS which replaced his 3G which replaced his original iPhone*

    Ok, so I’ve bought into iPhone in a big way, but it wasn’t gaming that attracted me specifically. I do have a few games on here, two of my favourites are Virtual Pool and Peggle, both of which I bought for just 59p.

    And although the touch screen works well for some games, the new 3.0 software finally allowing access to the iPod dock connector suddenly opens up a world of gaming possibilities, such as a clip on controller (as Celeste said above)

    It’ll be interesting to see if the controller idea is embraced.

  4. John.B avatar

    I saw the small deluge of planned and released add ons Celeste, thing is unless it was directly released by Apple I doubt they’ll be taken up in a big way. As far as I’ve seen they don’t have one planned, so it’d be down to third parties and without an industry standard how can the devs develop with them in mind?

  5. Jake avatar

    I love my iPhone. Ive looked at the games and seen a really nice RPG in the stylee of Zelda which i may part wirh pennies for…

  6. van-fu avatar

    Jake has an iPhone as well? Good man. I would like to see John’s take on the G1’s ability as a portable gaming machine. And for the record, I only play word games on my iPhone. Anything else is almost not worth the effort.

  7. John.B avatar

    The G1 has standard mobile gaming potential, in that it’s suited to retro and puzzle games but little beyond it. I love the G1 as a phone but as gaming goes the iPhone is the future.

  8. MrCuddleswick avatar

    It’s definitely going to emerge as an important gaming platform. Whether it’ll ever topple Nintendo and the DSiiiiiii in 2012 I don’t know.

  9. MarkuzR avatar

    I love my iPod Touch, as Van knows well 🙂 I had a DS and loathed it more than words could ever say (first gen, not the lite), also own a PSP which rarely sees the light of day… in fact I lost it for about a year and found it in a carrier bag after we moved.

    When I got the iPod Touch it was for watching movies and TV shows on the go and in the gym, but I honestly spend most of my time playing Flick Fishing, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, Pinball Dreams (big “yay” for the Amiga!!) and various other games. The ease of use is incredible… you want something, you click an icon… and you’ve got it fully installed in seconds. If only the PC would work that quickly.

    I never thought I’d say it, but the iPod has given me a whole new interest in mobile gaming, and one that I never thought I’d have. A couple of days ago I saw the release of the old Amiga classic Flashback, although I’m not sure how difficult that would be to control on a touch screen.

    Now if only they would bring out Oblivion or Fallout 3, I’d be a happy man.

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