Why the iPhone doesn’t need to compete with the Nintendo DS or Sony PSP

Mon, Nov 24, 2008

Analysis, Featured, News

There’s an article over at RedHerring which argues that the hype surrounding the iPhone and iPod Touch as gaming devices is just that, hype.

The article points out that while the gaming experience on the iPhone is superior compared to that of other smartphones, it still lags way behind the gaming capabilities of the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP. This is admittedly true, but this argument ignores the larger picture. Namely, the iPhone doesn’t need to compete directly with the DS or PSP in order to be a successful gaming platform.

The iPhone is a button-less device, and is therefore at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to playing a number of games. So in that regard, the article is spot on when it quotes a research director at Gartner who said:

“Certainly the gaming experience on the iPhone is superior to what you get from an average mobile device, however, I think that people who are buying a DS or PSP will continue to do so.”

But this misses the point entirely. What makes the iPhone as a gaming platform so exciting isn’t that it’s going to compete with Sony and Nintendo for the hardcore gamers, but rather that it appears to be opening up an entirely new market of gaming by appealing to the casual gamer. An analogous example would be that of the Wii compared to the Xbox 360 and Sony PS3. Hardcore gamers are always going to choose the Xbox and PS3 over the Wii, but what’s made the Wii so successful is that it’s been able to appeal to a somewhat untapped demographic via its unique gameplay. People who rarely played video games in the past were lining up to buy the Wii. The Wii essentially made video games more accessible to the masses by making it more user-friendly. The iPhone seems to be going down the same path. There have already been over 200 million downloaded applications from the iTunes app store, and there’s no sign that things will be letting up anytime soon. People who would never dream of buying a DS or PSP are downloading iPhone games by the MILLIONS, and though they might not be intense RPG’s, they’re cheap, fun, and downright addicting.

And just like the Wii, the unique feature set of the iPhone allows developers to get more creative when developing games for the platform. So while the iPhone might not be the device of choice for serious shoot-em-ups, it’s important to remember that there will also be a slew of games on the iPhone that won’t be suitable for the DS or PSP. The iPhone has an acceleromator, a multi-touch screen, GPS functionality, and Wi-Fi capabilities, and developers have just scratched the surface when it comes to incorporating those features into games.

Also, the iPhone is a lot bigger than just games. Sure, over 25% of downloaded applications are games, but that still leaves a huge 75% that’s devoted to a wide variety of other applications. In that regard, comparisons to the DS and PSP are misguided as the iPhone is not simply a gaming device, but rather a device that can be any sort of device you want it to be depending on what applications you download. It can be a gaming device. A music device. A learning device. A movie device. And the list can go on and on.

It’s also important to remember that the iPhone SDK hasn’t even been around for a year, and that the applications are just going to get better and better as the platform continues to attract talented developers. And with major game publishers such as EA and Sega devoting a lot of resources towards iPhone development, the difference in quality between iPhone games and console games will inevitably get smaller and smaller.

Hardcore fans of the DS and PSP won’t be picking up an iPhone anytime soon, but that’s irrelevant. What’s important is that people who have no interest in serious gaming will be picking up an iPhone or iPod Touch.


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7 Comments For This Post

  1. James Katt Says:

    Of course, the iPhone competes with the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.
    But you miss the point.

    It is the iPhone AND iPod Touch – together as a platform – which competes with Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.

    Both together will sell millions of units a year. Over time, they both will rival the total number of Nintendo DS and PSPs.

    The iPhone/iPod-Touch Platform is not just opening up a new casual gaming market. It is also directly competing with the current handheld gaming market.

    Because the platform has more graphics power than the Nintendo DS, has more games, has a more accessible app-store than both Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, and has traditional shooter and other games coming to it, and is easier and more profitable to develope for, the iPhone/iPod-Touch Platform is a dangerous competitor.

    Since most people want to only carry one, possibly two devices, then there is only so much room in one’s pockets.

  2. Constable Odo Says:

    The iPhone shouldn’t compete directly with the PSP and DS. Both those products were designed from ground-up as dedicated gaming machines. The iPhone wasn’t. It just happens to be able to play games as well if not better than the average smartphone. All the iPhone has to do is make the games enjoyable enough for a handset user and make money by selling games. There are lots of cellphones that play games and yet they’re not being compared to the PSP or DS, so why is the iPhone being compared as some direct competition. Apple didn’t claim the iPhone was supposed to capture the dedicated mobile game market. Just some bloggers and media people said that. Lacking a dedicated graphics processing chip and physical buttons, there is no way it should be classified as a dedicated gaming device.

    Personally I think it’s like taking a fast street car and then trying to race it on a track against a dedicated race car. It’s an unfair comparison and not at all practical.

  3. oplusix Says:

    You might be right but tell me then why is my son dropping the DS and asking for my phone as soon as I get home from work; only to play with hundreds of free and cheap games.

  4. Jeff Says:

    James Katt needs to take another look at the Nintendo. There are THOUSANDS of top-shelf games for the DS, where there are DOZENS for the iPhone.

    Sorry, but as an owner of both platforms, I can tell you that Apple has a long way to go before they’ll prise my DS from my cold dead hands.

    Now the argument that the iPhone/iPodTouch appeals more to the casual gamer only applies if people make a fairly hefty up-front payout (for the device itself) – I was very happy with my DS/PlatinumSudoku pair for the first YEAR and that was HALF the price of the equivalent ipod.

  5. Aryss Says:

    Just for the record, I consider myself a “hardcore gamer” but I would NEVER even touch a PS3/XBOX 360. Wii surpasses them in, really, everything.

  6. design Says:

    yes they do need to compete with psp and ds. I have an iphone and theres some good games but i feel like they have a lot of work to do. The acceptance of it being just a casual gaming platform is the mentality that has made sub par, mediocre, half assed games dominate the top game app charts. Spore was even a disappointment since they originally stated it would be the full game ported over to iphone, instead all we got was the cell stage.

  7. Auto Glass Says:

    Sony PSP = Pile of crap stupid disks, no hard drive etc.. junk

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