One of the more intriguing outcomes from the iPhone SDK and the upcoming App Store is the notion of the iPhone as a mobile gaming platform. When the SDK was announced, game developers leaped on the chance to develop games for the iPhone, which seemed like an exciting new playground for mobile games. But frankly, I was skeptical. I have both a Sony PSP and a Nintendo DS; would gaming on a cell phone really be good enough to compete? We've all witnessed the debacle that was the Nokia N-Gage, and how terrible that turned out to be. It's one of the many reasons the majority of cell phone games are still really simple, like puzzles and card games, with the occasional retro game like Pac-Man thrown in for good measure.
But the iPhone's luscious touch-screen display and internal accelerometer seem to promise something more. I was first intrigued by the Touch Fighter game Apple developers whipped up to show off the iPhone SDK way back in March, and even more so by the scaled-down mobile version of Electronic Arts' hotly anticipated Spore. Still, these were just demos, and I wasn't sure if they would pan out to anything substantial. However, after the keynote at WWDC, I find myself suddenly excited about the future of the iPhone as a genuine gaming platform. Out of the 12 or so applications that were demonstrated, 4 of them were games. And these weren't just simple Tetris-like games either (The one exception was Enigmo by Pangea Software, which is a 3D puzzle game). Sega's Super Monkey Ball was especially a highlight, fully utilizing the iPhone's accelerometer as a way to tilt the ball through various mazelike structures. Pangea Software's Cro-Mag Rally also uses the accelerometer so you can drive simply by "steering" the iPhone left or right. Not to be outdone, Digital Legends Entertainment even promised a full-blown RPG in the form of Krull, a caveman adventure where you can fight off bad guys, swing from rope bridges, and more. Of course, you not only get all these games, you also get a cell phone, a media player, and a GPS unit, all in one device. Suddenly, my Sony PSP (which I haven't touched in months) doesn't seem so hot.
The true genius behind the iPhone's gaming potential lies in the low introductory cost. Sure you have to cough up $200 or so for the device, but each game will sell for $10 while most DS games are $30 to $40. Now I'm not saying the iPhone should be seen as primarily a gaming device--it is first and foremost a cell phone no matter how you look at it. Also, the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS have dedicated controls and tactile buttons, which are very important for certain kinds of games--I certainly don't think Tekken or Zelda will translate very well to the iPhone. That said, for those who are tired of carrying around multiple devices, or those who just want a casual handheld to play games on the train or on the bus, the iPhone could definitely be a serious contender in the mobile gaming space.
And man, if they ever introduce Mario Kart to the iPhone, it's all over.