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iPhone 2.0 SDK: Video Games to Rival Nintendo DS, Sony PSP

Daniel Eran Dilger
When the iPhone was unveiled a year ago, it was obvious that it would outclass the status quo in mobile phones, particularly in the US where mobile operators have been holding back innovation. Far less obvious was the potential for the new phone to rival dedicated handheld gaming consoles. Here’s how well the iPhone stacks up against the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP in both hardware and as a business model.

Not a Fair Fight.
At first blush, one likely wouldn’t think of the iPhone as being in the same league as handheld gaming consoles. However, when Apple showcased a half dozen prototype apps at the SDK launch, fully half of them were games. Clearly, Apple isn’t going to be ignoring games on the iPhone.

The most obvious competition the iPhone faces is the leading Nintendo DS and the distant runner up, Sony’s PlayStation Portable. Incidentally, both gaming units appeared on the market in late 2004; the iPhone benefits from being nearly three years younger, and therefore based on considerably more modern technology. However, gaming isn’t an easy market to break into.

In addition to the very popular DS and the runner up success of the PSP, there have been notable failures in mobile gaming. Nokia’s Symbian-based “side talking” N-Gage, released in late 2003, fell dramatically short of sales goals and turned into an embarrassing joke for the company. In early 2005, Microsoft worked with Gametrac to deliver a WinCE based gaming device called Gizmondo; that company fell apart after scandals erupted involving executives’ ties to a Swedish crime ring and massive embezzling and reckless spending resulted in its bankruptcy. It didn’t help that Gizmondo was branded the “worst console of all time” by gamer magazine writers.

The Spectacular Failure of WinCE and Windows Mobile

Playing the Console Game.
Successfully deploying a game console is a lot of work and a lot of risk. The hardware has to deliver competitive features while also being priced low enough to attract a large audience of buyers. There’s also the catch-22 of selling units before enough game titles exist, or alternatively, lining up developer support before having sold any units to players.

Gaming heavyweight Sega pulled out of the living room games console business entirely after the tepid launch of the Dreamcast in 1998. Despite pioneering hardware, the Dreamcast suffered from poor marketing and was subsequently blindsided by the smash success of Sony’s PlayStation 2 nearly two years later.

However, Sony’s own efforts to enter the handheld gaming world, long dominated by Nintendo, didn’t materialize as planned either. Despite attractive hardware and its association with the most popular series of living room consoles ever, the PSP has fallen short of selling half as many units as the DS: 31 million PSP units versus 65 million DS. Nintendo also still sells the earlier generation Game Boy Advance, which has sold an additional 81 million units since 2001. Combined, Nintendo has sold nearly as many handheld gaming units since 2001 as Apple has sold iPods.

Microsoft similarly proved that its desktop PC monopoly power was no match for the entrenched players in the games console business, losing tens of billions on the original Xbox and Xbox 360 while remaining in a distant also ran position. Just two years into its massive investments in the 360, the console has already seen sales fall of dramatically in its second year, and entering 2008, it has consistently slipped behind the PS3 in monthly unit sales.

Video Game Consoles 2007: Wii, PS3 and the Death of Microsoft’s Xbox 360

Video Game Consoles 2007: Wii, PS3 and the Death of Microsoft’s Xbox 360

Apple’s Quiet Gaming Strategy.
Apple seemingly wouldn’t stand much chance in throwing its own ring into the rough and tumble games console business. Its last effort, a licensing deal with Bandai to resell a low end PowerPC Mac as the 1995 Pippin entertainment system, was a notable failure.

Rather than directly competing against the big players, Apple has been developing games for the iPod in what has appeared to be a Steve Jobs Hobby since late 2006. However, those efforts translate directly into the new iPhone development platform, as Apple has used iPod games to perfect a system for secure digital software delivery through iTunes.

When the games appeared, it was a bit of a surprise to see what the iPod could deliver. It shouldn’t have been; the 5G iPods have the same ARM7TDMI processor as the Game Boy Advance (the iPod actually has two), a higher resolution 320×260 screen compared to the GBA’s 240×160, far more RAM (64MB) and plenty of disk storage to avoid needing to carry around any cartridges.

The iPod could deliver these major hardware advantages over the GBA because it was designed to be sold for around $400; the GBA was intended to retail for around $200. The iPod certainly wasn’t designed to compete as a gaming device, but its latent capacity makes it a viable alternative for the tens of millions of users who already have an iPod and want to use it for new things. Apple’s pioneering $5 game market also lowers the threshold for impulse buying.

Hacking iPod Games: How Apple’s DRM Works

Can a Phone Play Real Games?
The iPhone has similar hardware advantages over the DS and PSP, both of which were engineered to sell at much lower price points. The DS originally sold for $149 (and is now $129), and the PSP debuted in the US at $249 (now sells for $169). The 8GB iPhone debuted at $599 (and now sells for $399).

Apple’s engineers not only had a bigger budget to spend, but could use more modern technology given that Apple released the iPhone two and a half years later. Here’s how their hardware compares:

Nintendo DS: Late 2004
67 MHz ARM 946E-S (N-Gage processor) + 33 MHz ARM7TDMI (same processor as the original iPods)
256KB Flash + cartridge storage
Dual, 256×192 3“ displays; one is stylus touch sensitive
No accelerometers
No camera
No mobile radio
WiFi 802.11b/g
No Bluetooth

Sony PSP: Late 2004
333 MHz MIPS R4000 CPU + GPU with 2 MB onboard VRAM running at 166 MHz
32 MB main RAM (new models expanded to 64MB), and 4 MB embedded DRAM. MemoryStick storage, UMD media
480×272 (368×207 usable for video); no touch screen features
No accelerometers
No camera
No mobile radio
WiFi 802.11b
No Bluetooth

Apple iPhone: Mid 2007
Samsung ARM SoC 620 MHz 1176 running at 412 Mhz + PowerVR MBX 3D GPU
8 or 16GB Flash storage
320×480 3.5” display with finger multitouch input
Accelerometers for direct physical control
2 Megapixel camera
Quad band GSM + EDGE
WiFi 802.11 b/g
BlueTooth 2.0 EDR

The iPhone is in a significantly different class of performance, has far more internal resources for games, and is equipped with a variety of other hardware–from its camera to its ubiquitous (if slow) mobile network to its multitouch high resolution display and accelerometers–all of which have to power to unlock entirely new classes of games and other more serious applications.

As a handheld console, this feature set makes the iPhone a bit like the Wii, with interactive new gameplay features, and a bit like the PS3, with higher performance gaming specs and additional online and media capabilities. Buyers won’t have to decide if they want a handheld game console; they’ll get it for free when they buy the iPhone or iPod Touch.

Further, because Apple is attaching game development as a sidecar dessert on top of a device that is primarily monetized as a hardware sale (boosted by retail and accessory sales, media sales, and carrier revenue sharing), developers will get more bang from their buck and will incur less risk developing games for the iPhone. The iPhone has also already proven itself as a very desirable smartphone, even before the arrival of any native games, ameliorating the worries of a whether games developers should invest in the platform.

The iPhone’s development tools are more approachable to a wide audience of developers already familiar with the Mac, they’re significantly cheaper to obtain and get started with than other consoles, and game distribution will be much easier and more lucrative because Apple doesn’t need to squeeze fat licensing fees out of its developers to make money. In fact, Apple will do best by continuing to give developers those groundbreaking 70% royalties on their software sales, encouraging a wide and deep gaming market to develop for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Apple’s iPhone vs Smartphone Software Makers

Apple’s iPhone vs Smartphone Software Makers

The Chips and the Frameworks.
The iPhone’s System on a Chip processor bundles an ARM 1176 clocked at 412 MHz. The DS uses a pair of much earlier and simpler ARM processors, while the PSP uses the now dead end MIPS architecture, which was used in the Nintendo 64 and earlier PlayStation and PS2 consoles. Both Nintendo and Sony have since moved their modern living room consoles to variants of the PowerPC family.

That leaves the iPhone with an ideal CPU architecture for handheld gaming, and one familiar to existing smartphone developers. Above the hardware level, the Phone’s Cocoa Touch layers on a mature development framework that makes creating software for the iPhone much easier than developing for Symbian, Windows Mobile, Palm, RIM BlackBerry, and other mobile platforms.

The iPhone’s SoC also bundles a PowerVR MBX graphics processor. In the late 90s, prior to the advent of ATI and NVidia as GPU leaders, PowerVR rivaled 3dfx Voodoo graphics cards in the PC market. Sega’s Dreamcast was also built around a PowerVR graphics processor. Following the rise of ATI and NVidia, PowerVR moved into the embedded mobile arena and became the standard for mobile smartphones and related devices.

Getting performance from smartphones has often been difficult because mobiles commonly rely on their own proprietary software or least common denominator packages like Sun’s stripped down Java ME. Apple’s iPhone SDK uses OpenGL ES, the same standard graphics API used by Symbian smartphone developers and the Sony PS3. This standardization will make graphics and games development for the iPhone familiar to a wide audience.

Again, in addition to using the PowerVR hardware and Open GL ES software, Apple is also providing its own slick software integration with tools such as Core Animation, making it much easier for developers to achieve a consistent look and feel with the buttery iPhone interface without necessarily being experts in embedded video development.

iPhone ARM

Origins: Why the iPhone is ARM, and isn’t Symbian

And the Competition?
Nintendo has long held a dominant position in handheld gaming, developed through a strategy of focusing on playability. The Game Boy, GBA, and DS didn’t deliver the most incredible hardware of the time, but did serve as low cost gaming devices paired with large libraries of games licensed by Nintendo. The company has worked to maintain high quality games for all of its platforms.

That also results in making Nintendo’s platforms closed tighter than Apple. Nintendo started in its closed development plans after the Video Game Crash of 1983 nearly wiped video gaming out of retail stores. Atari had encouraged unlimited game production for the 2600, resulting in some game titles being produced in greater quantities than the console itself. The result was a glut of games foisted upon retailers and a backlash against gaming.

Nintendo successfully reintroduced gaming by positioning its new NES game console as an “entertainment system” paired with a toy robot. As gaming took off again in the late 80s, Nintendo’s strict controls gave it strong market power and delivered exceptional profits. Independent developers couldn’t ship games for the NES without a licensing agreement with Nintendo.

Nintendo ruled the roost until its deal to build a new CD-equipped Super NES system with Sony fell through, resulting in Sony leaving to develop its own PlayStation games console in late 1994. Sony maintained the same games licensing model as Nintendo. When Microsoft entered the fray in 2001 with the Xbox, it similarly relied upon software licensing revenue to partially bail out its console hardware losses.

These conventional game console makers rely heavily on software licensing fees to keep their heads above water; Apple doesn’t. Software sales through iTunes will be self supporting in an effort to drive software availability. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft have largely been opposed to small homebrew development, and are therefore going to be threatened by Apple’s encouragement of software development freed from licensing profiteering.

iPhone 2.0 SDK: How Signing Certificates Work

iPhone 2.0 SDK: How Signing Certificates Work

Microsoft recently unveiled XNA plans that try to achieve both: courting small developers to make online Xbox games and software for the Zune, and then subsequently taxing them as much as 70% in exchange for marketing exposure. Like Apple’s iPhone App Store, Microsoft won’t allow outside development, not because of security issues, but because that’s where Microsoft hopes to make the majority of its money. It remains to be seen how well that will work for the company, particularly given the extremely low uptake of the Zune and the year over year free fall in sales of Xbox 360 units.

Microsoft also appears to have given up all efforts to repurpose WinCE as a third party handheld gaming platform after the failure of the Gametrac Gizmondo. While the company recognizes the importance of “developers, developers, developers,” without a viable platform to sell to, those developers won’t care.

Nokia is trying to resuscitate N-Gage 2.0 as a gaming platform for its higher end N-series smartphones as part of Ovi, a portal site that also plans to sell music and GPS maps. The gaming platform will be constrained somewhat by the simpler specs of Nokia’s phones; the N81 has a similar processor, but only 96MB of RAM, a far more limited graphics resolution of 240×320, and no touchscreen or accelerometers, limiting the new N-Gage platform to the simplistic cell phone style games that have already failed to garner much attention.

Nintendo is unlikely to be pushed from its perch of selling $130 handheld game consoles by the $299 and up iPod Touch and iPhone. It has also demonstrated no interest in moving into mobile phone gaming itself. Unlike other hardware makers, Nintendo has also worked to sell its consoles at a profit while also earning software licensing revenues. That means Nintendo may be less likely to deliver games for Apple’s platform, as it would tend to draw attention away from its own handheld gaming efforts.

At the same time however, the company was quick to point out that its DS didn’t directly compete against the Sony PSP, and those two products were only $100 apart; Nintendo might therefore aim to deliver software for the iPhone because of the limited competition between the two platforms serving different markets at very different price points.

Sony is working to establish the PS3 and grow sales of the PSP before the three year old platform begins to run out of steam. PSP developers face more complex and expensive tools, which has resulted in fewer games being developed and sold. The PSP only had 2 games in the US top 50 last year, compared to 12 for the Nintendo DS.

Sony has also hampered the PSP with its preoccupation with promoting its own proprietary, physical media formats, including the failed UMD and MemoryStick. Apple’s online distribution model will democratize development and the iPhone’s wireless App Store and large Flash storage will encourage lower priced game sales in volume.

Sega no longer makes its own gaming hardware, giving it free rein to develop titles for the iPhone. It demonstrated a prototype of Super Monkey Ball using the iPhone’s accelerometers to control player movement. Sega noted that the iPhone’s 320×480 resolution meant that it had to spruce up its graphics, commenting that the iPhone supported console-style graphics rather than those typical of a cell phone.

Artificial Life, Aspyr, Electronic Arts, Feral Interactive, Freeverse, Gameloft, id Software, Pangea, THQ, and Namco Bandai have all confirmed an intent to deliver games for the platform, with Gameloft announcing plans for fifteen titles by the end of the year. Apple also demonstrated Touch Fighter, its own in house game, showing off the iPhone’s use of both OpenGL graphics, accelerometer support, and OpenAL audio for stereo sound positioning.

Touch Fighter iPhone

Ethan Einhorn, who demonstrated Sega’s Super Monkey Ball, told gaming site Next-Gen, “From a technical standpoint, the iPhone is competitive with dedicated handheld gaming devices [like the DS and PSP]. The delivery system for software will be digital and easy to use. And the ability to have all of your portable electronics needs catered to with one device is irresistible. Given all of that, the potential for the iPhone as a games platform is massive. From a technical standpoint, the iPhone is competitive with dedicated handheld gaming devices. This is a phone that offers plenty of power to work with, no compatibility concerns, and uniform input functionality. That represents an evolution in the mobile gaming space.”

10 Games Perfect for iPhone : Next Generation

As Apple migrates its 150 million iPod installed base toward the iPod Touch and iPhone, the company will pair a large user base with enthusiastic development efforts. Users will get the gaming environment as a free addition to the phone, media player, and web browser they purchased. Conversely, that also means that lesser phones with plodding web browser capabilities and simplistic media playback–as well as dedicated games consoles that really only play games–will have a hard time competing against the new platform. That should make for an interesting 2008.

More on the iPhone 2.0 SDK

iPhone 2.0 SDK: The No Multitasking Myth
iPhone 2.0 SDK: Java on the iPhone?
iPhone 2.0 SDK: How Signed Certificates Work
iPhone 2.0 SDK: Video Games to Rival Nintendo DS, Sony PSP
iPhone 2.0 SDK: Readers Write on Certificate Signing

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  • jfatz

    “Also, FYI, the “second party” is you the buyer, so “second party software” would be software you write yourself. The first party is the original seller and third parties are those that are outside the buyer and seller.”

    To my knowledge, the only way “second party” gets used in relation to the console gaming business is to distinguish it from first- and third-party developers, as they’re technically third parties but act like first parties. (Tied to one platform through their own interest, partnerships, publishing, various IP deals, etc.) It doesn’t seem to be an industry term in any real technical sense.

    We are referring specifically to console manufacturers and all their splintered development, however, so it’s a safe-enough term to use when referring to Sony or Nintendo and the games they develop internally, own, commission, publish, etc. (From a revenue standpoint, it’s effectively the same for them. I would only count “software licensing fees” as coming from third parties, not from first-party or “second-party” releases. Hence my distinguishing between them.)

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  • Cataclysm

    “The licensing business model of Nintendo vs Atari is relevant, and interesting because Apple is doing something that is somewhere in between: restricting development like Nintendo, but leaving the market more open like Atari.”

    Please tell me you are not this naive. Not only are you applying a business model from over two decades ago, you aren’t even getting it right. There are many myths about what went on in the NES days.

    Nintendo’s solution to the Atari crash was not the limiting of 5 games a year but the copyright ‘scan’ that was the ‘lockout’ chip. The biggest bottleneck in those times were cartridges (as every cartridge had to be made by Nintendo) and when a chip shortage came the licensees suffered as they couldn’t sell as much software as they wanted to.

    If companies had to use iphone cartridges that could only be made by Apple, you might have a point back in that time. But I doubt that is what you meant.

    What you are referring to is the myth that Nintendo’s ‘Seal of Quality’ meant Nintendo managing the library for quality. No such thing ever existed. As proof, look at the NES library and you will find most of the games to be horrible if not complete garbage. Nintendo never cared what licensees did with their games so long as Nintendo got its share (hence the lock-out chip) and there was nothing on the game that could tarnish the console’s image (such as adult rated material or religion).

    Sega and Nintendo were content have companies come to them (for they saw it that they made the market). Sony changed the strategy significantly. Sony went out of its way to throw out every software it could. This meant the Playstation library was extremely large with TONS of garbage. However, in entertainment you never know where the next big hit will come from. The larger the library, the more probability for surprise hits. One PC port, Grand Theft Auto, was always there. The third incarnation suddenly rocketed the Playstation 2 hardware up with it. Starting with DS and then Wii, Nintendo altered its strategy to be super aggressive in getting as much software as possible for its platform. This is the real reason why DS and Wii have maintained its high sales.

    Is Apple doing this? No. Why? Because Apple doesn’t know how to make a dedicated games platform. Console industry is cut-throat. Apple couldn’t afford the risk.

    “Gaming is indeed a tech business, but as I pointed out, Nintendo has proven to be quite successful in delivering playability vs high tech.”

    It sounds like you stopped reading game industry history after the NES. Nintendo was always involved in high tech wars including the 16-bit War with its SNES, the N64 with graphics from Silicon Graphics, to Gamecube whose graphics surpassed that of PS2 and pretty much matched the Xbox. The Industry calls these periods the console wars.

    With the DS and Wii, Nintendo has altered its strategy and is pursuing a more blue ocean strategy/ Christensen disruption to the market. Aside from DS and Wii, Nintendo did focus on ‘technology’ which is why their market share kept shrinking. Even the NES was designed to be graphically superior to competitors in Japan.

    Since you think I am full of “Puff”, I recommend that you read a speech that the President of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aime, made which outlines certain basic behaviors in the handheld gaming market: http://www.pgnx.net/articles.php?page=full&id=5657

    “There are regular new games being rolled out by significant developers: EA, Sega, etc.”

    And how is this different from other phones? Do you think these games will be made by first string teams or fourth string teams? If you say first string, hehe… And LOL at Sega, they have been going downhill fast lately. Companies such as Sega are in a money crisis so they are porting Sonic the Hedgehog to every platform on Earth.

    “Do you think Apple is losing money hand over fist from its gaming program like Microsoft? If so, you’re wrong.”

    You cannot compare the two as Apple does not make dedicated game hardware. Also, Microsoft’s losses come from game hardware, not game software (which they do make money from). Apple is only making game software; Apple isn’t making game hardware.

    Again, the game console business is cut-throat. You are either making billions of profit or billions of losses. Only one console company still exists: Nintendo. Sony, now that it is on a losing trend, is raking in billions of losses which they have to turn it around. Microsoft, like Sony, is using other divisions to keep their game console afloat.

    “Clearly, you are wrong. If there was no interest, there wouldn’t be a long list of interested parties getting started. EA wouldn’t be describing the unit as a breakthrough in mobile gaming.”

    EA says that about every new platform they sign up on. It is just standard PR speak. Would you expect EA to say anything different?

    “You compare the iPhone to Wii/PS3/XBL gaming. Why? That business is irrelevant to mobile gaming.”

    You’re very new to game industry analysis so I’ll be gentle. Mobile gaming, including cell phone gaming, attracts smaller companies. This is because game development costs on consoles have risen to astronomical heights. Costs have even risen on handhelds. But more important, the retail business model also makes many games too risky except the most surest franchises.

    Small companies were beginning to spread their wings on cell phone games and, maybe, a new Tetris would have been born. Since WiiWare, PSN, and Xbox Live Arcade, the big three console makers have been aggressively taking the most promising of these companies to make games for their service. This means the ‘next Tetris’ is less likely to appear on a cell phone and more likely to appear on one of these services. These small companies happily sign up with one of the console manufacturers because the entire installed base are gamers and are looking to buy games. They will sell more software there than on any cell phone or ipod.

    “The result: a living room console-type market paired with the future of highly mobile users.”


    “Ask a few analysts about the future of smartphones and see if they think there’s any growth potential.”

    There is always ‘growth potential’. That is why things like the i-phone get the token support. But the real business is going to be on the dedicated machines.

    “Seriously, do you really think that games developers will shun the iPhone because users are drawn to it for its media playback and other features?”

    Have you SEEN the abysmal PSP TIE ratio? Do you have any idea of the PSP software sales?

    “You are awfully dismissive of my comments, but they are really rather uncontroversial and obvious. Revisit this toward the end of the year and see if your mind changes.”

    I know you deal with many trolls and obnoxious critics so you have a pattern to critical replies. I’m actually trying to help out because the Game Industry is a very different beast than what you’ve been studying. When I started, I also got sliced to ribbons.

    One thing I can say that you’ll probably agree with me is that the Game Industry attracts lots of attention and analysis from various analysts to the gamers themselves. Game Industry is one of the few industries I know where customers regularly check sales numbers and watch what executives say like a hawk.

    Step outside the Apple-sphere and post this… ‘article’… on any major gaming forum. Watch the reactions. You’ll get many people sounding like me.

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  • jfatz

    You’re missing one extremely large thing, Cataclysm… No mobile platform right now–not the DS, not the PSP, not any mobile phone–does casual gaming well. None.

    And by “casual” I don’t mean simply a puzzle game or any other game with simple mechanics, because there are plenty of those around, but rather free or “cheap-as-free” games like the ones millions of people waste a whole lot of time with on PC.

    Every other device has a barrier of entry: The DS and PSP distribute physically and expensively ($20 is the absolute minimum for games to start at, and most hover around $30 or above); other mobile phones tend to have crappy screens (with no adoptable standard), crappy processors (with no adoptable standard), and crappy controls (with no adoptable standard), making any kind of game development a splintered, lowest-common-denominator mess. (Distribution also completely blows, though at least it can be done on the fly.)

    The iPhone and iPod Touch have the DS and PSP advantage of brand reputation, capable hardware and unified standards (as well as processing advantage over the DS, display advantage over both, and both input advantages [more touch surface, other included input sensors] and disadvantages [lack of physical buttons and potentially cutting into screen space for dedicated controls]), but also the cell phone advantages the DS and PSP do not have like low cost and intrinsic, wherever-you-are distribution (The iPod Touch less than the iPhone, though). They also have their own unique features like omnipresent wireless features, automatic updating, and ease of web-based promotion. Above and beyond that, they also have the APPLE advantages of marketing, design, software development (not talking about just games here) and electronic distribution prowess which they’ve had up and running for years with tremendously high volume.

    Only the PSP is STARTING to try this out, with a storefront you can access through the PC or PS3 and offering $5-10 games, and the shakiness and inconvenience shows. (Sony and Nintendo seem more focused on how to try to get retro games playing on all their devices.)

    The iPhone and iPod Touch are blowing out of the gates for completely different reasons, and have the AUTOMATIC advantage of being able to distribute for free, which is going to spawn a tremendous amount of interest. (It also has “no cost to you” demo distribution for free, because while Apple seems to have no “time delay, remote revocation” system in place right now, all a developer has to do is create a “not the full game” build, label it “demo,” and have Apple distribute it for free.)

    Basically, what the Apple products are getting in front of is what reflects WEB development and the immensely popular casual games those involve, and the vast majority of those are simple click-and-drag, or one-or-two-button affairs. It does have a hurdle to cross since the majority of those games are also Flash/Java (unless Adobe and Sun can build shell loaders or something, letting you create an online reference link or download games locally and play them through the specific loader app), but those are EXACTLY the kinds of games the largest number of consumers would be interested in skimming through to find some they like.

    Card games, puzzle games, the popular “tower defense” types… just about everything would be easy to move over, would bring constant traffic to your website, but would cost you no extra bandwidth for the game itself… $1 and $2 charges could redefine “impulse buy,” and $5-10 games would likely be the mainstay rather than the exceptions. Popular-enough and complex-enough titles can charge their own price on top of that, and probably make a even more from their 70% cut than they would through conventional means. (Extra marketing would be the only other cost on their end, and they could even save on that by working out more innovative and web-based methods.)

    Basically, just as the Wii started expanding the market to new customers who’ve never owned a console before (or who haven’t been interested in generations), the iPhone and iPod Touch (and whatever follows) are perfectly positioned to do the same thing in the mobile market. Want a puzzle game to while away the time on the train? See what’s in the App Store. Interested in a multiplayer Scrabble or Bridge app? See what’s in the App Store, and test if the free versions are better than the $1 ones or $5 ones. See an interesting game or app referred or reviewed on someone’s blog? Click a link and go to it in the App Store immediately, rather than try to remember what it’s called and look it up at home if you think about it.

    The iPhone is simply changing the overall game, grabbing every advantage of other cell phone mobile games but expanding them and being better than them in every way, while NOT operating at a serious gaming deficit compared to the DS or PSP, and WHILE tapping the immense popularity of the iPod platform, iTunes media distribution, and Apple’s mindshare and development expertise.

    They’re starting off strong, positioned well to bring in volume, and even if it’s a volume of free gaming and apps, it’s still a volume of eyeballs willing to try and buy YOUR games and apps, and route it through YOUR website and online revenue stream if you’re clever enough to manage it. It will build from the bottom up, instead of “exactly what everyone expects” and trying to slap on new features and new possibilities in slapdash, half-hearted attempts. It’s also easily recognizable as a direction the whole gaming industry–but most especially portables–ARE moving to embrace, and we’ve seen what happens in certain industries when Apple gets there first, and does it their way… ;-)

    Will they in the future extend the same games and software through their computers, and through AppleTV to your living room? (Heck, could that be possible with the current SDK?!) The SDK can change over time to offer more features on the iPhone and iPod Touch as well, so the future seems rather extensible since it can involve other devices you already own, rather than other consoles you purchased because you like Nintendo or Sony gaming. Apple still sells more computers than Sony does PS3′s even with the much higher price point, and a good portion of them are mobile platforms as well, which no PS3 or Wii is. Windows PC-wise, of course, there’s no comparison, and iTunes AND Safari AND whatever else they’d need would have no problems running there. And while the AppleTV has unknown popularity right now, it can still offer an Apple-specific extension into the living room at a cheaper price point than the volume-pushing Wii.

    Basically, Apple has a lot more they CAN tap and push in the future, and they move a whole lot faster and adroitly than Nintendo or Sony or Microsoft in this fashion, so any success compounds.

    Even as a gamer and owner of just about any platform, while I know that the iPhone and iPod Touch are not going to provide everything I want, I freely note that an iPhone would always BE with me, while I have to think about bringing my DS or PSP along with me, and choose what titles to bring along, etc. (I know I could hack them to get around some of those limitations, but I don’t really want to have to…) And the iPhone is best-positioned to deliver the kind of impulse games, pick-and-choose selection, always-with-me convenience, and entertainment-for-my-dollar to put a tight squeeze on the other options I’m already eminently familiar with.

    …and we’re not done with Year One yet.

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  • http://ephilei.blogspot.com Ephilei

    A minor note: I’m wondering if the iPhone’s vibrator is accessible to the SDK and if that will be used for gameplay as it has in non-mobile consoles. Or the microphone?

    With the emphasis on a consistent platform for 3rd party apps, I’m guessing that Touch v2 will become even more similar to the iPhone: camera and bluetooth and maybe a vibrator and microphone.

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  • raist3d

    As much as I have liked this website’s analysis on some things and subjects, all I can think when I read this article is “where do I start to pick this thing appart.” There are so many wrong assumptions, downright wrong facts here and then completely invalid conclusions that it’s not even funny.

    First let me state it clear: yes, I think Apple has an interesting strategy here. What gets me is the “if the hardware is there they will come” anaylisis, and the incredible misunderstanding of the gaming business.

    A quick example to show what I mean:

    “That leaves the iPhone with an ideal CPU architecture for handheld gaming, and one familiar to existing smartphone developers. ” (in reference to using an ARM vs some of the competition like PSP).

    First of all, it is the nature of console development that you develop on whatever machine comes out with whatever specs. There’s no major fears here of switching CPU’s, though keeping the CPU can be nice at times.

    Second, the MIPS that you call so dead end (which btw, is still in development and used in many places) is one of the architectures most world-class developers are familiar with due to the insane installed base of the PS1 and the still living and selling PS2.

    So, I am not saying this is a stumble for the iPhone because of that but I wanted to show the kind of faulty logic I am seeing throughout the article.

    If you want to take a shot at PSP for familiarity, how about taking that shot to the iPhone with its PC/Dreamcast rejected PowerVR architecture, which does things that make some regular operations much more difficult to do (the PSP chip would crush the PowerVR doing some alpha blending operations for example).

    BTW, I am not saying the PowerVR is a bad chip, nor am I saying that there aren’t advantages to it, I am just showing how the logic of the article is faulty and is used with rose-colored glasses on the Apple side of the coin, in a double-standard way.

    Some other specs are flatout wrong – for example the PSP doesn’t have just one, but has two MIPS cores with a 128-bit memory bus (the ARM on the iPhone is 32 bit only if I remember correctly). Would you think this could make a difference when accessing some memory? You think?

    The PSP has an FPU vector unit- this is something that on the iPhone appears to be missing. Do you think this can make a huge difference in 3d? Don’t you think?

    And who told you that you can only play back “368×207 usable for video” for the PSP? This is also factually wrong. UMD’s play at the full screen resolution of the PSP- the machine is more than capable for doing it and they look *far better* than the iTunes stuff you normally download.

    But let me raise another question here because again, it all seems like we are all focused on the hardware in the article and we are missing some important stuff here.

    “The iPhone is in a significantly different class of performance, has far more internal resources for games, and is equipped with a variety of other hardware–from its camera to its ubiquitous”

    And the iPhone is also (we again, questioned the ‘better than PSP performance’ earlier already), in a different class of price, and one of the things that affect sales of a console device a lot for games is exactly that- price.

    The whole article seems to imply that having better hardware equates a an instant win. If anything has been shown this generation by Nintendo not only by the DS but by the Wii in particular is that *you don’t need the latest greatest hardware* to make a great gaming platform.

    But the article charts forward, the iPhone is more powerfull, so it’s done.

    Let’s continue looking at more claims…

    “The iPhone’s development tools are more approachable to a wide audience of developers already familiar with the Mac, they’re significantly cheaper to obtain and get started with than other consoles,”

    And how many of the well known established game developers develop games for Mac? What percentage is this vs the console world? Hmm let’s think about that one fast.. oh yeah, super small.

    Again, this doesn’t mean that developer’s can’t come in to the iPhone, I am just pointing out the incredibly faultly logic at work here.

    There’s two more things I want to touch on:

    #1. the PSP is NOT running out of steam, in fact sales have been pickup. The article seems to suggests that somehow the PSP is on its way out, Sony being desperate to “use it before it runs out of steam.” With a machine like PSP in the mobile space you don’t need a replacement that fast (nor does NIntendo with its DS)

    Just because you are selling 1/2 the DS doesn’t mean the PSP is not being very profitable. 33+ million units worldwide is not a small number.

    #2. Where are the buttons and d-pad controls on the iPhone? Did anyone think about this when writting this article? Because I hate to break this to you but using a touch screen for all kinds of games out there, i.e. for “real games” that is all touch sucks in a major royal way.

    If you don’t think this is true *you just don’t know games* – period.

    This doesn’t mean you can’t do creative use of the touchscreen and for a lot of games the touch screen will be what the doctor ordered. But don’t write off this omission as trivial. This is major. It will force the iPhone platform to have a certain kind of game. I am not saying it can’t do well without it, but it is definitively a big cons comparing with the PSP/DS.


    And one more thing- whatever poster said that the Nintendo DS doesn’t do casual gaming well… you probably don’t even know what a Nintendo DS is. If anything Nintendo has accomplished with the DS/Wii this time around is expand the market to more casual type of experiences *particularly* with the DS. Check out things like Brain Age. In Japan there’s a title that teaches you manners (yes, how to eat with the silverware in the right order, etc.), another teaches you how to dress up properly for different ocassions and things like how to tie your tie and so on.

    If that doesn’t seem casual for you….

  • http://www.roughlydrafted.com danieleran


    I appreciate your comments but I think you make broad generalizations that talk past the points I make.

    The point is that there is a huge market behind ARM in mobile devices (compilers and other tools, chip architecture familiarity among people, and economies of scale that benefit production and ongoing investment), not that ARM is a brand name I’m dropping because I’ve heard of it and though it would be good to associate with Apple. I’m not a back of the magazine pundit.

    You just made the point that the CPU doesn’t matter, because developers target whatever hardware is being sold. Now you say MIPS is significant in the future because it was used in previous generations of the PlayStation? Reconcile that before you hammer at my non-controversial point.
    PowerVR is used on every mobile, and is the graphics architecture adopted by Intel’s Atom, if that matters (and the jury is still out on that one). I’m sure there may be better technologies one might be able to point to, but PowerVR is literally used in everything from car audio/video systems to iPods to smartphones. Future generations of PowerVR will add 3D shaders. Will gamers see any difference in the PSP vs the iPhone, or will they not even be comparing the two?

    Where is the faulty logic again? From your own argument, developers target the hardware being sold, not the most ideal technologies. I agree. But if you think the MIPS PSP and its graphics are going to blow away the standard ARM/PowerVR architecture of the iPhone (and every other high end mobile) on their technical merits, I have a hard time understanding what exactly your position is. You can’t have it both ways. I’m only pointing out that Apple is currently in the advantage of being on top of the winning hardware, and not strugglingly to make sales of a device that is now four years old, and which has not seen any real exploitation of its advanced hardware anyway.
    If you can provide a source for this I’d be happy to correct any error I’ve made. I never intentionally present false information, and am happy to accept corrections.
    Yes the iPhone (and iPod Touch) costs more than the PSP. However, it cost FAR less than a PSP + a Sony Ericsson phone. If your phone can play console style games, you are less likely to need a separate device to play movies and games. Additionally, the price difference between a PSP and an iPod Touch is not really that significant, as the market is showing.

    “The whole article seems to imply that having better hardware equates a an instant win. If anything has been shown this generation by Nintendo not only by the DS but by the Wii in particular is that *you don’t need the latest greatest hardware* to make a great gaming platform.”

    No, that’s not what the article says at all. In fact, I actually pointed out that Nintendo’s success was rarely based on the best hardware, but rather a great overall package. That’s what Apple has. The article only pointed out that the current 2007 hardware in the iPhone was significantly better than the 2004 hardware put into the “designed to be cheaper” handheld game consoles, something that seems counter-intuitive yet should be obvious.
    “And how many of the well known established game developers develop games for Mac? What percentage is this vs the console world? Hmm let’s think about that one fast.. oh yeah, super small.”

    And how many desktop software packages are available for the PSP? Even the PS3/360/Wii only have a crappy web browser. Apple has ridiculously slick dev tools on the Mac, and adapting them to make games on the iPhone (where there is tremendous demand as I pointed out) will not only give Apple’s mobiles an edge among handheld gaming, but will likely also bring attention to the sorry game development status quo on the Mac.

    “Again, this doesn’t mean that developer’s can’t come in to the iPhone, I am just pointing out the incredibly faultly logic at work here.”

    Well please repeat your faulty logic complaints, because so far, all I’ve seen is circular, contradictory complaints about insignificant details.
    Numbers of sales is not necessarily a measure of profitability, but PSP numbers are not great, and have long been disappointing. It’s now four years old and has significant competition. It did nothing to offset iPod sales, despite having a nicer screen and many other features. As it gets cheaper to build, it will likely continue to sell in quantity just like the old PS2 still sells into the millions. It’s not leading the market in any metric however, and one can’t expect 4 year old hardware to do this.

    The iPhone isn’t attempting to be a conventional game device, and given the PSP’s lackluster sales, that strategy would have been stupid. The iPhone has positional controls and a fully configurable touch pad. Maybe you’ll hate it, but I’m not recommending that you buy one to play games. I’m only pointing out that shitloads of people will buy games for the phone they already own, and that will greatly expand the gaming market in the same way that the Wii has expanded gaming outside the basement of nerds who have mastered a controller with two dozen buttons.

  • raist3d

    Testing.. I am trying to post from my MacBook Pro w/ Safari (latest everything) but seems like it’s not getting through…

  • raist3d

    Given that I could not post exactly the reply I wanted, I am trying to be more concise, use less formatting so the website accepts the post.

    I ask readers when they read this, to think in the context of Daniel’s last reply to me and the article.

    Key points-

    - If you use the ARM cpu familiarity as an argument, then *you can’t slam the PSP for having a MIPS processor* because it would also benefit from that as tons of game developers are familiar with MIPS due to ps2/ps1/N64
    - And yes I said that in the end this point is irrelevant, but I am pointing out that you don’t follow the necessary conclusion on the PSP side using your logic, and you can’t have that both ways
    - That the specs of the PSP you posted are incomplete and also factually wrong.
    - That the iPhone having better or comparable hardware for games is into question
    - Moreover after finding triangle rates and polygon fillrate I would now dare say the PSP is actually BETTER for many types of games than the iPhone *if* we are going to use hardware superiority as a metric (this is a new point)
    The triangle rate on the best case for better PowerVR MBX, is 4.45 times the powerVR and 1.10 times in fillrate (and this is a best case).

    - That in the end hardware superiority does not equate platform degree of success, at least directly, as Nintendo has shown (but I did discuss hardware superiority as you brought it up in the article)
    - That if the mobile games market you refer to is the casual games market that is there, then the PSP and DS don’t have much to worry about.
    - That the PSP is getting more sales and more game software developer support in the last years, so support is increasing, not diminishing
    - That the PSP has been hardly lackluster at this point- it’s the most successful handheld console after the DS in the DS/PSP generation

    There is ample evidence of this from review sites, the “first class” citizen console treatment the PSP gets, the amount of games and so on. Where do you get that the PSP is not doing well, doesn’t have support or such I don’t know.

    Please understand this last point does not equal, in any shape or form to “iPod/iPhone will be held back by the PSP”. Completely independent non related points here and I am certainly not saying the one I just quoted, but I await if you think I did, where did I say so.

    And I also did mention- that yes, I thin the iPhone/iPod platform is an interesting strategy for games as Apple is playing it, and that I see potential there for sure (and somehow you ignored I said this).

    - Ricardo (raist)

  • raist3d

    Ok so it looks like the main issue was that the website couldn’t accept links that I was trying to provide (probably a spam saving feature).

    The links where to the powerVR website and IGN for PSP tech specs.

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