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Apple’s iPhone is game for anything

The iPhone is, arguably, as good a hand held games console as the PlayStation Portable, or the Nintendo DS. With the iPhone, Apple have a convergence device like no other…

Apple logoThe iPhone is, arguably, as good a hand held games console as the PlayStation Portable, or the Nintendo DS. With the iPhone, Apple have a convergence device like no other…

Apple’s last foray into the games console market all but bombed with the Pippin. This time, Apple chose a different vector of attack. By building the iPhone and the iPod Touch around their OS X operating system, they leveraged an already growing platform, making the transition for developers of business software and video games alike as smooth as possible.

Way back in late December 2006 — a full six month before its eventual launch on June the 29th 2007 — I talked up the idea of the iPhone being a hand held games console. There was so much speculation floating around at the time, it was difficult to separate fanciful / wishful thinking from insider rumour.

The case design I ran with was hopelessly wrong, but based on the then design of the iPod Nano, it made sense at the time. That aside, the rest of the speculative piece was broadly close to what we have now.

“What with Apple rolling out games for the current crop of iPods, with the prospect of an Apple-branded mobile phone in the offing, we have all of the ingredients for a small, portable games console, plus mobile phone .. plus music player.”

Thinking about the mobile phones at the time that were sporting games, they were (and for the most part, still are) hopeless. Here I’m thinking of Nokia’s N-Gage, which was woefully bad.

If anyone has a track record of convergence devices, it’s Apple. Their attempt to turn the computer into a household appliance with the ancient original Macs was years ahead of its time. But for the iPhone, the situation was subtly different.

There were no technological barriers to speak of, and certainly no hostilities in terms of market or social acceptance. The only limitations were the imaginations of the designers and engineers.

Fast forward to the present day and rubbing shoulders with the Blackberry-esque features that the new iPhone 3G now sports are brightly coloured games like Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D and Super Monkey Ball, to name but two!

For the iPhone, it’s shirt, tie, cufflinks, sock suspenders, flip-flops, shades, a sun lounger and a tall, cold drink with an umbrella in it — work hard, play harder still!

For the likes of Sega, who’ve since gotten out of the console market to concentrate on games for those consoles that remain, it’s a dream come true — the iPhone is, by all accounts, more powerful than the Sega Dreamcast.

And what about the iPod compared to the Nintendo DS and PSP? Well:

“An EA developer put it this way. On a scale of the three, it’s in between the DS and the [PlayStation Portable], but sliding more towards the PSP.”

Without any real game-related noises emanating from their PR people, or embargoed news from colander-like engineers, leaking rumours all over the place, Apple have entered the portable games console market with a device that has the potential to give Sony and Nintendo as many sleepless nights as Blackberry and Microsoft’s CE division.

Taking the rough with the smooth — the iPhone movement

Despite the iPhone doing well with with games, being a better corporate citizen and sort of holding its own as a mobile phone, it doesn’t lead in any one of those areas.

As a games console, the accelerometer creates as many problems as it solves:

“Developers need to create smoothing algorithms in order to take random data points and interpret them into a curve which can then be used as movement info.”

As a corporate digital animal, the iPhone doesn’t have the same depth of features as a Blackberry, or the support.

And as a mobile phone, the camera simply isn’t good enough, there’s no video support and no MMS (Multimedia Messaging Services), which are show-stoppers for a lot of people here in Britain, Europe and Japan, a key market for Apple.

But is there any other one device that can do all of those things in the same form factor, with all of the same blindingly brilliant design and excellent engineering? No, there isn’t.

In the end, it’s all too easy to criticize the iPhone for what it isn’t, but we need to concentrate on praising it for what it is — a true, modern-day convergence device that can only become more complete with every upgrade cycle…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.