Apple vs. Mario: The handheld gaming battle begins
When Forbes.com suggested in June that Apple might be preparing to attack the handheld gaming market, bloggers freaked out. CrunchGear called the notion that Apple will challenge the Nintendo DS "wild speculation." CNET blogger Don Reisinger began an 800-word harangue with the words "Has Brian Caulfield of Forbes totally lost it?" and GameDaily asked "What Is Forbes Smoking?"
For the record, Forbes Media LLC is a drug-free workplace. But if talking to software developers counts as a mind-altering experience, we're there. Back in June, Apple was preparing to launch the App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and our checks with developers showed the App Store's pipeline was stuffed full with games.
Since its launch in July, the App Store has turned into a monster, with Apple announcing in August it was selling $1 million US worth of software a day — and climbing. And 928, (26 per cent) of the 3,528 applications offered at the store are games. "Who knows, maybe [the App Store] will be a $1 billion marketplace at some point in time," Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs told The Wall Street Journal.
After debunking rumors of his impending demise, Jobs slashed the price of the cheapest iPod Touch to a gamer-friendly $229 (from $299) and previewed an advertisement pushing the iPod Touch as a gaming gadget.
"Now you could make the argument that it's the best portable device for playing games — and a whole class of new games," Jobs told an audience at the San Francisco Yuerba Buena Center For The Arts.
Whoops. Of course, if you believed everything you read on the Internet, you'd never think Apple could dream of taking on mighty Nintendo. Unless, say, you were to start checking the math.
One blogger actually wrote that he doesn't "see how Apple has a chance," citing Apple's "lofty goal" of selling 10 million iPhones this year and the fact that Nintendo clocked DS sales of 414,800 in the month of April.
Huh? Last time we checked, 12 times 414,800 was 5 million (rounding up, anyway). As for Apple's "lofty goal" of 10 million iPhones, as any stock analyst can tell you, that was a cheap set-up. Apple always lowers expectations so it can crush its targets. People who pay attention to stuff like this figure Apple will build more like 17 million iPhones this year. That bests a three-to-one advantage — before counting the sale of a single iPod Touch.
Certainly the $130 DS Lite has an enormous "installed base." Then again, the Atari 2600 has a hefty installed base, too — in landfills.
But forget the numbers showing Apple is going to sell a ridiculous number of game-friendly gizmos over the next few years. Frankly, the Nintendo DS is looking a little weary. Introduced in 2004, the Nintendo DS got skinny in 2006, transforming into the DS Lite. In other words, it's getting old. Not only does the thing rely on cartridges, it uses a stylus — kind of like, say, the Palm Pilot (another gizmo with a big installed base).
If you want to see the future of Nintendo's handheld gaming devices, pick up an iPhone or iPod Touch. The gadget's interface combines a touch-sensitive screen with the motion-sensing attributes of the Nintendo Wii. And who needs buttons when you can use software to paint the controls you need on the screen?
Critics seem to like the combo: "The iPhone and iPod touch are now formidable handheld gaming platforms, to be taken as seriously as Sony's PSP and Nintendo's DS," Tom Rose wrote for the Boston Herald last week.
Even better, the App Store allows gamers to buy a game with the touch of a button, turning shopping for the latest game into an exercise in instant gratification. Rather than trekking to the store to shell out $35 for a game cartridge, Apple can lure in gamers with the promise of hundreds of free games and hundreds more for less than $10. It all adds up to a very serious offering. End of argument.
As for commenters such as "Rucksack" who have contended on blogs like Destructoid that I'm a "non-gamer," I have two words: Thank you. With your help, I may yet manage to convince friends and family that my XBox, XBox 360, Nintendo Wii, collection of PC games, Game Boy, iPod Touch, Coleco Head-to-Head Football hand held, and yard-wide game controller complete with a gear shift, eject button, two joysticks and three foot pedals are not a sign of any kind of videogame "addiction" and that, in fact, I do not play videogames at all.
Rucksack, I owe you one.