Why Apple loves iPhone games right now
It's all down to iPod touch users, apparently
Wasn't the Apple event last night supposed to be all about music? That was the impression given by the invites - 'It's only rock and roll but we like it' - with speculation leading up to the event focusing on new iPods, interactive albums and the possibility of The Beatles on the iTunes Store.
Well, there was no Fab Four announcement in the end, and the biggest device news was a new iPod nano with a video camera. But the strangest thing - and most exciting from a Pocket Gamer perspective - was the high priority given to iPhone games at the event.
They took up a big section in the middle of the presentation, with a series of new games shown off from Ubisoft, Tapulous, Gameloft and EA, with a side order of smack-talk from Apple exec Phil Schiller directed at Sony's PSP and Nintendo's DS.
"When these things came out, they seemed so cool," he said. "But once you play a game on the iPod touch, you think 'hey, these things aren't so cool any more..."
In all honesty, we didn't need more proof that games are big for Apple - the company's actions and words in the past year have shown that already. But when even CEO Steve Jobs starts talking about gaming, you know games are really big:
"Originally, we weren't exactly sure how to market the touch," he told New York Times journalist David Pogue in a post-event chat last night.
"Was it an iPhone without the phone? Was it a pocket computer? What customers told us was, they started to see it as a game machine. We started to market it that way, and it just took off." And that's the key: people have been buying shedloads of games for their iPod touches, thus tipping Apple's strategy towards promoting it as a competitor to PSP and DS. As Jobs went on to tell Pogue, making the 8GB iPod touch even cheaper ($199 in the US, £149 here in the UK) ties into that.
At one point in the App Store's lifetime, we would have said that games were important to Apple because they were a quick and easily-understandable way to show off the capabilities of an iPhone or iPod touch.
But it's now clear that for a growing number of users of the latter, games are the MAIN capability that they're interested in.
It's good news. Expect Apple to continue to respond to games developers' concerns and requests over everything from the approvals process to the way it organises the games sections of the App Store.
The introduction yesterday of a Top Grossing chart and Genius recommendation technology would have had developers purring (even if the scrapping of the ability to browse games by genre in iTunes on the desktop caused more concern).
Our only caveat about the iPhone versus PSP & DS rhetoric - and one we've maintained all the way along - is that it's not about how many games you have.
During last night's event, Schiller showed a bar chart comparing the 607 games for PSP and 3,680 for DS with the 21,178 games available on Apple's App Store - citing this as proof that iPhone and iPod touch is the leader.
The real story is about how many of those games are actually good. And that's where the innovations EA is bringing to iPhone in its biggest console franchises like Madden NFL 10, or the effort Gameloft is putting into building its own rich iPhone franchises, or the dozens of innovative and fun games being released by indie developers every week, count the most.
Those are the real comparison points with PSP and DS. And it all adds up to a truly exciting period for handheld gaming, with those platforms fighting back with their own digital distribution efforts while Apple turns its attention to what else needs to be done to grow iGaming.