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The iPhone and App Store vs. Nintendo and PlayStation

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Welcome to the second day of our App Store week at Tech Digest marking the first anniversary of the software gateway that’s helped put the iPhone on the map. That said, I largely decided yesterday that the App Store is a pile of novelty nonsense but one area I only really glanced at was its impact as a serious supplier of quality games.

Nintety-five per cent of the games are complete rubbish but there’s a few big gaming titles on there like Quake, Doom and Metal Gear Solid carrying the flame. More to the point, though, there’s potential, potential within the handset to deliver much more than the likes of Finger Sprinter and Where’s my Watermelon. The question is, is there enough in the iPhone/App Store combo to really pose a threat to the Nintendo DS and the PSP? Are they really in the same space and the even the same league. Come with me and we’ll take a look.

The first place to start is the hardware itself. Each handheld has a maximum storage of 32GB, depending upon how you expand it, which means the iPhone’s ok there. It’s not too shabby on processor power either which is going to be key to getting decent games to run.

The iPhone has only one 32-bit ARM CPU rather than the DSi’s dual chips and the PSP Go’s 64-bit MIPS unit but it is, at least, clocked nice and high in comparison at 600MHz rather than 133MHz on the DSi and the PSP Go at 333MHz. It’s not as good as 64-bit gaming but then, technically, nor is the DSi and it’s still in the realms of what the PlayStation 1 could do. Not bad for a handheld.

The second hurdle for App Store games is that even if the iPhone has nearly got what it takes on the inside, it might have some other physical restraints that the others don’t suffer from. It’s rather like dolphins and whales. They’re creatures of perhaps comparable intelligence to man but the trouble is where we had arms, legs, a good voice box and opposable thumbs to help us rule the world, they got rather trapped behind flat flippers and a problem with dry land. It must be rather like being Shaun Ryder – definitely something important going inside but no ability to express themselves. Anyway, I digress.

The point is that the PSP Go and DSi are built to play games. They have D-pads and fire buttons. The iPhone has a touchscreen. Gorgeous as that interface is, it’s not particularly well suited to all sorts of complicated, in-depth games. In fact, it rather lends itself to the usual brand of nonsense we see peddled at the App Store.

In its favour though, it does have an accelerometer – an interesting bonus over the other two. The 3GS also has a built-in compass and HSDPA connection and those could all add a certain interesting dimension to original gameplay. Sadly, though, those are really the trimmings and the iPhone’s going to need to get the basics right before it becomes a serious gaming handheld. Thankfully, at least the screen is comparable. It loses 0.3″ to the PSP Go and an entire other LCD to the DSi but it’s 3:2, 3.5″ touchscreen is certainly enough.

Battery-wise, the iPhone isn’t ideal but it should last you most of your day. I’m not sure how far it’ll get you playing solid games but far enough is the answer I’d suggest. Not great but it’s not going to be the area that holds it up.

So, the hardware isn’t ideal but it’s probably enough to compete with the other too particularly given that it makes phone calls as well as all the other internet browsing and multimedia functions that it does much better than both the PSP Go and the DSi. So, provided that the games at the App Store are as good, there’s a very good chance that a user might not bother buying a dedicated gaming device if they already have an iPhone.

The trouble is that it’s not a straight choice. The iPhone is prohibitively expensive for most users. The mobile gaming market is relatively young in its target group and the young are simply not as able to afford shelling out £200 plus £40 each month over the next 18; not when compared with a one off payment just over £100.

The games on the App Store are cheaper – certainly more so than those for Nintendo – but then, that’s partly because most of those games aren’t as good. What about if developers really go to town and make something decent? How much is that going to cost at the App Store.

And that leads me on to another good question. Will the developers see the App Store as a serious platform for serious games? What it does supply is a far easier way of getting your software out there. No need to worry about distribution when you can just stick it on iTunes; very quick, very convenient, very efficient and nobody to get in your way except the the big red button.

What’s more, there’s the cash. The 70/30 split on the App Store must be pretty tempting. All you’ve had to pay is your $99 for the SDK and then you can start packing a proper majority per centage for your game. It all sounds rather attractive for the burgeoning developer with bags of enthusiasm but not so many contacts and as much industry recognition.

But with the current set up, successful developers are going to want to move on. As we’ve already seen, the iPhone hardware is more limited than the other systems and the audience is limited too. There’s an impressive 22 million iPhones in the world but that’s only half as many PSPs as there are and a quarter of the 100 million DSs sold worldwide.

There’s also little in the way of marketing in the App Store – not compared to the tens of thousands of pounds that the games distributers and their PRs will throw at your product to make it an all time great. There is fortune, if not fame, to be made in the App Store but it tends to be for the nonsense. What serious games developer wants to bother with the iFart and perhaps there lies the real rub of the piece? The App Store is carving out a niche for itself as a mobile gaming haven but not one of quality and not for the serious gamer.

While that’s the case and while the hardware isn’t quite there, I find it very hard to see how the iPhone and App Store are in the same space as the DS and the PSP. There’s definitely a place in the future to go that direction if Apple decides to add a few more buttons and some more processor power, and certainly if Nintendo and Sony decide to add telephony to their handhelds but, for the time being, I’d say convergence hasn’t quite converged that far. Give it the App Store’s fourth birthday, though, and we might have a very different story.

Zeemote – SHINY VIDEO REVIEW

Zeemote, sounds German yes? “Pass me zee mote”. But it’s not. The Zeemote is Bluetooth anologue controller for all your mobile gaming needs, neato!

The Zeemote is a lovely feeling little device, its ergonomics are actually rather impressive. It sits rather brilliantly in your hand and offers you two trigger style buttons with the joystick and a power but on top for your thumb to do with as it pleases. The rubberized texture also gives you the purchase you need for some hardcore, extended mobile gaming.

Connecting it to your phone via Bluetooth is easy as wink, as long as your phone supports it, after you’re paired launch a game an you’ll get a prompt asking you if you’d like to use the Zeemote, and you’re away.

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The in-game experience itself isn’t too shabby, the Zeemote actually works perfectly, you feel like you’ve got far greater control than you ever had prodding at the two, four, six and eight buttons. The Zeemote really comes into its own with flying games where you’ve got the analogue’s full range of movement at your thumb’s disposal. And due to its cunning design it works for leftys and rightys equally.

The Zeemote ships with Sony Ericsson’s latest Walkman phone free on T-Mobile. So if you’re desperate for a control for your on-phone gaming, it’s there waiting.

The sad fact is, the Zeemote works really well, it feels nice, and is genuinely a pretty decent product, but it’s about six years too late. Does anyone really play mobile games anymore? And if you do it’s certainly not with the zeal which you did when they were new.

The Zeemote is only supported on a limited number of phones and not the iPhone for which, with it’s legions of Flick Fishing and Field Runner addicts, it might have been a reasonable success, but tethered to the Sony Ericsson it provides a rather limited gaming experience. The Zeemote will end up at the bottom of your sock drawer, and what’s worse, when you find it a year later, you won’t even remember what it’s for.

X-Factor mobile game – now you can fail to impress Simon Cowell on the bus

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Who decided this was a good idea? Mobile games are almost always awful, and so is the X-factor, so putting them together multiplies the awfulness. No, worse, it squares the awfulness. No – that doesn’t even come close. I’d say it’s the veritable factorial of awful. Or, awful! as I should probably refer to it as…