News that the latest operating system for Apple’s popular iPhone, OS 4.0, was greeted with skepticism by Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime, who said Apple’s increasingly surefooted move into the mobile gaming space is not having an impact on Nintendo. Moreover, Fils-Aime dismissed the selection of games Apple offers. While Nintendo has indeed achieved extraordinary success with its portable DS platform (not to mention with the Wii console), Apple’s Game Center platform, which could be compared to Microsoft’s Xbox Live offering, suggests Apple is moving to become a more competitive-and sophisticated-player in the mobile gaming space.
Based on information gleaned from Scott Forstall, senior vice president of iPhone Software, during Apple’s press event for iPhone OS 4.0, the Game Center, which is expected to debut later this year, will be integrated directly with the iPhone’s software architecture, allowing users to share their experience and connect to other users. “Gaming is extremely popular on the iPhone and the iPod touch,” he said. “We have over 50,000 game and entertainment titles on the App Store.”
Comparing that number with rival dedicated gaming devices, such as Sony’s PlayStation Portable or the DS, Forstall pointed out the PSP offers just 2,477 titles and the DS offers 4,321 titles. “We just blow them out of the water,” he said. We want to make gaming even better on the iPhone.” This includes features like matchmaking, which finds users partners for multiplayer games, matched to each user’s skill level and access to leaderboards and achievements.
Small wonder then, that Fils-Aime bristled at the idea of Apple suggesting they’ve been “blown out of the water” by Apple. But as Forstall pointed out, 50,000 titles is a huge library of possibilities, and it is likely that any efforts Apple makes to improve the social aspect of mobile gaming is likely to positively impact Apple’s efforts to move deeper into the mobile gaming space. Another aspect to consider is that unlike the DS or PSP, the iPhone is, of course, also a phone. While previous portable gaming systems were another piece of equipment to carry around, the iPhone, for many owners, is a necessary and constant presence in their lives.
By enhancing the mobile gaming experience, the connection between user and device intensifies. In a world where “snack size entertainment” is increasingly more desirable, Apple may be on the right track by offering less sophisticated games but delivering equal (or greater) instant enjoyment. “If our games represent a range between snacks of entertainment and full meals depending on the type of game, (Apple’s) aren’t even a mouthful, in terms of the gaming experience you get,” Fils-Aime said in an interview with the gaming blog Kotaku. Despite his assertions, Fils-Aime may find consumers willing to dine with Apple are ready to change their eating habits.