Rock Band coming to iPhone? There's an emoticon for that:

m/

It might not be a surprise - EA Mobile has already released a version of the game for regular mobile phones - but it's still marvellously exciting. Yes, in a geeky way - four people standing in a circle rocking out with their iPhones is, if anything, even more masturbatory than when real bands do it.

But it's just the latest sign of iPhone's capability to be the next big platform for music games. Up to now, consoles have had all the fun thanks to Guitar Hero, Rock Band, SingStar and the rest. More recently, PSP and DS have got in on the act - again with Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

But think about what's happening on iPhone, particularly since the release of the iPhone 3.0 software.

Just this week, Tapulous released Tap Tap Revenge 3, offering purchasable track downloads for the first time, as well as supercharged social features. It joins I-play's Hip Hop All Stars on the App Store, which will also use in-app payments to keep the game fresh.

In the future, we can look forward to other innovative music games coming from other platforms. AudioSurf will let you turn your tunes into futuristic racing tracks, while Square Enix's Song Summoners will transform them into soldiers. Rockstar is even bringing its PSP music creation tool Beaterator to the App Store soon.

Just this week, a little-heralded game called Beat Runner 145 bpm launched, which involves racing against drum loops to stop a ticking time bomb from going off. Developers are getting to grips with the musical potential offered by Apple's handset - not to mention the iPod touch - so these are just the early days.

And, of course, the music industry is currently hot for iPhone apps. While many are more interactive toys rather than games - I Am T-Pain and Sonifi being two excellent examples - branded games are also on the industry's agenda. Who would have thought a couple of years ago that someone would make a game based on Daniel Johnston's Hello How Are You, for example.

In this regard - and for the games like Rock Band and Tap Tap Revenge 3 with DLC - iPhone is benefiting from something the games consoles don't have: its own music store. iPhone gamers can tap through if they want to buy songs from the iTunes Store, which the record labels like.

Will millions of iPhone gamers start buying songs because they've heard and/or played them in games? Who knows. But the fact that the labels think they might means they'll be more open to licensing songs for creative and interesting games.

iPhone isn't going to replace the experience of thrashing a plastic guitar in front of your Xbox 360, of course. But it's no exaggeration to suggest that Apple's handset is the new frontier for music games, with the potential to push them in new and exciting directions.

Or, as Def Leppard might put it: an iRock is most certainly not out of the question.