Now that the App Store has launched and we've gotten our hands around iPhone games, it's time to see how they measure up to what Nokia has been offering with N-Gage. Our own Stuart Dredge has already outlined the threat iPhone poses to Nokia's gaming service, but now we're ready to go deeper into exactly how the two meet up in terms of available games, features, and ease of use. Both provide entertaining content, but you'll be surprised at who emerges on top in this contentious battle between mobile gaming's two biggest contenders.
Quantity of Games
In approximately six months of service, Nokia has managed to populate N-Gage with several titles. In launching the App Store, Apple ushered in over a hundred games for iPhone. In a single day, Apple has managed to get more games onto its iPhone than N-Gage by quite a margin. Approximately a quarter of the 500-plus applications that hit the App Store are games, giving iPhone a significant advantage in terms of selection. Quality is another issue, but N-Gage can't compete with the sheer number of games that are lining Apple's digital shelves.
With over a hundred titles at launch, iPhone obliterates N-Gage. No contest here.
Quality of Games
While most of what is available in the App Store is of questionable quality, iPhone already has a handful of killer titles. Trism, Super Monkey Ball, Chopper, and others provide solid experiences right out the gate. iPhone titles don't go through as rigorous a certification process as those made for N-Gage, so quality is inconsistent; however, developers taking the platform seriously are pumping out great games.
On N-Gage, the quality of games is much more consistent. The platform takes more of a handheld approach. Flashy graphics and features standard across all games offer a unified platform. Even with ports, there's a modicum of quality thanks to the care that Nokia has taken in selecting titles to hit the deck.
iPhone makes up some ground when looking forward, touting exclusive titles like Digital Legends's amazingly-looking brawler Kroll, cutesy platformer Rolando, and inklings of a touch-enabled BioShock. Nokia has kept quiet about its future line up, on the other hand. We do know that Reset Generation, N-Gage's killer app to be sure, will be hitting us with its greatness before summer's end.
Right now, the two platforms have around the same number of big titles, but N-Gage possesses a higher level of quality across all of its titles. That is likely to change, but Nokia is holding onto this category with a razor-thin edge.
Few games have begun to tap the potential power of iPhone outside of Super Monkey Ball and Cro-Mag Rally. For launch games, they look quite good - on par with handheld titles available on PSP or Nintendo DS. The exact same can be said of N-Gage titles like System Rush: Evolution and Creatures of the Deep. Both platforms push mobile gaming graphically with several stellar-looking titles. In the end, it's really up to developers how much they want to push graphics. This generation of mobile gaming won't be decided on graphics, largely because both platforms are more than capable of outputting eye-popping visuals.
Nokia N-Gage-compatible devices and the iPhone are pretty evenly matched when it comes to graphics. While one may edge the other technically, it really comes down to the games themselves.
There's nothing close about the battle waged between Nokia's powerhouse N-Gage application and the iPhone. While Apple has taken great steps to usher gaming onto its device, it simply doesn't pack the same lengthy list of features as N-Gage. The entire N-Gage application has been designed with gaming in mind, offering a suite of features including a friend's list, messaging, Pickup Points, free trials, and dedicated showroom. iPhone possesses none of these integrated features, although the free games do somewhat counter N-Gage's demos.
iPhone developers are certainly free to develop similar functionality into their games; however, they aren't unified across all titles. N-Gage was designed with gamers in mind and iPhone takes a broader approach; as such, it doesn't cater to games with a wide array of features like N-Gage does. If anything, iPhone bests N-Gage with its inventive touch screen and accelerometer. Those, however, are simply different ways of interacting with games, not necessarily better. In a way, Nokia's strength is in the sophistication and feature-rich software, whereas the allure of the hardware sells the iPhone.
No matter how cool you find tilt and touch controls, they simply don't beat out the array of mindful features packed into N-Gage. It's absolutely ideal for gaming. There's simply no contest here with N-Gage trouncing iPhone handily.
Ease of Use/Accessibility
All of N-Gage's features come conveniently packaged in one piece of software that is either downloaded onto a compatible device or already installed on a select number of models. Accessing the application requires a bit of digging on your phone due to poor placement, but you can easily put a shortcut on your main menu. iPhone games appear on the main deck along with any other application download from the App Store. To be fair, neither provides a fluid, stupid-simple interface for accessing games in a dedicated space or folder.
When it comes to purchasing games, N-Gage and iPhone essentially meet each other head on. The dedicated on-device showroom allows you to get games anywhere; of course, the same can be said of the App Store, to which you can gain access from a connected iPhone. A slight edge opens up when you consider the option of downloading titles via iTunes on a PC or Mac. Technically you can do the same for N-Gage software, although it's not as straightforward a process. Buying a game on PC and then dropping it onto your Nokia phone isn't as streamlined as synching an iPhone with iTunes and having applications automatically copied to your phone.
Accessibility ends up being a wash when you consider that the N-Gage offers a dedicated space for gaming on your phone, whereas iPhone has a streamlined buying process. Ultimately, the ease of getting games onto your device trumps how they're organized. iPhone seizes the edge - just barely.
As it stands today, neither Nokia nor Apple have a definitive lead in the mobile market. Look at the numbers and you'll find N-Gage more widely used, but the (now rapidly) growing adoption rate of iPhone is about to tip the scale.
N-Gage games currently have a higher level of quality across the board, giving Nokia a slight advantage. An impressive line-up of iPhone games on the horizon could oust N-Gage from being the definitive mobile platform, where only Reset Generation gives us any anticipation for N-Gage's immediate future.
Right here, right now, though, we're giving N-Gage the edge. But lend an eye to iPhone as it prepares to devour the competition – potentially before summer's out.