At Apple event, iPhone and iPod Touch challenge DS and PSP

Robert Galbraith/REUTERS
Apple's Phil Schiller, Senior Vice-President of worldwide marketing, speaks about the iPod Touch's game playing capabilities during a special event in San Francisco September 9, 2009.

At the Apple announcement today, Steve Jobs and the gang came out swinging against video game titans Nintendo and Sony.

Although the company is rather new to mobile gaming, Apple has broken a lot of ground very quickly. It designed a powerful pocket-sized gaming platform, built a thriving App Store, and brought several major game publishers on board.

So, at its 9/9/09 event in San Francisco, Apple spent a good amount of time trash talking the competition.

"People are starting to see what a great gaming device this is," said Apple exec Phil Schiller, according to Engadget's transcript. "When you think about the companies that came before us... when you played those other systems, they seemed so cool, but now when you look at them, they don't stack up against the iPod Touch."

How true are Apple's claims? Can iPhone really rival the DS and PSP? Let's break it down.

The playing field

While sales for the iPhone and iPod Touch still lag behind those for DS and PSP, Apple has caught up faster than many expected.

"The fastest growing product in the [iPod] line is the iPod Touch," Schiller said. "Now, I'm proud to tell you that we've sold 20 million Touches. Couple that with 30 million iPhones. This technology is taking off so quickly."

Fifty million is within arm's reach of the Sony PSP, which has sold 55.9 million units worldwide since its Japanese launch in 2004. The upcoming PSP Go could hasten Sony's pace, but the numbers show Apple overtaking it soon.

The DS is a different story. Nintendo's touch-screen device not only outsells the PSP, but also zooms past even the Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3. US customers alone gobbled up more than 123,000 new DS units during the last week of August. Worldwide, its lifetime numbers break the 100 million mark, boosted by two smart device redesigns, including the recent DSi.

"Games are expensive"

Video game pricing baffles me. The recent release of Civilization Revolution for the iPhone is almost a direct copy of the DS game. Yet the DS version costs $20, while the iPhone game is only $5. The graphically superior, but otherwise similar console edition is $40. Why the discrepancy?

Part of this price conundrum is seemingly tied to another of Apple's bragging points. The App Store offers 21,178 games. DS supports 3,680 titles, according to Apple. The PSP's catalog includes 607. With so many titles crowding Apple's store, price becomes a crucial variable in the equation for success. The British gaming mag Edge made the following observations:

The biggest thing I’ve noticed recently is applications can drop in price massively, presumably in order to get into the top 25 or top ten. Once they’ve established a nice position, the price is increased. Peggle is a great example – it was sitting somewhere well outside the top 25, and then the price was dropped to 59p for a week. By the end of that week, it was at number one pretty much all around the world. Then came an increase back to £2.99. It’s now down at 87.

This extreme sensitivity to price means that iPhone apps rarely cost more than $10, the price of a bargain (read: "bombed") DS title. Apple apps are mostly shorter than traditional games, which is good considering they're designed for bus rides and waiting rooms. Shorter durations usually equate to less money spent on development. But many worry that this glass ceiling for app pricing means that really high-quality games will be big risks.

If you charge too much, people won't buy; if you charge too little, developers might never turn a profit.

Quality of games

The past few months has seen several fantastic apps, even if you leave off the caveat "for an iPhone game." Spider, Space Invaders Infinity Gene, and Real Racing have all made good use of the device's touch-control scheme.

And, according to a programmer at Telltale Games, the handheld is more powerful than a Nintendo Wii. Writing about the recent releases of Secret of Monkey Island titles on Wii, iPhone, and Xbox 360, the programmer said that "frame rate issues will probably get sorted out eventually, but keep in mind that the Wii is just not a powerful console. An iPhone is much more powerful than a Wii, even."

Eager to keep wowing gamers, Apple showed off several upcoming games during the event, including iPhone versions of Assassin's Creed 2 and Madden 10.


Jobs is back, and Apple is going after Flip

With the announcement that it was dropping a video camera into every iPod Nano sold, Apple declared open season on Pure Digital’s Flip.


Favorite mobile gaming device? Favorite iPhone game? Let us know below, or follow us on Twitter for more sci-tech news.

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