It’s that time of the year again: Apple starts off the holiday shopping season with announcements of their new (or significant upgrades to) products. True to fashion, late last week, Man-at-the-helm Steve Jobs and other Apple execs rolled out a number of new features and additions to existing lines, but interestingly, Jobs himself confirmed that Apple is now seriously committed to getting into the games field.
If computer hardware/software making companies getting into gaming sounds familiar, the most obvious example is Microsoft’s Xbox console, but one can’t count out Dell and or Alienware’s commitment to addressing what gamers are after. For decades Apple has been doing things a differently (remember the Think Different advertising campaign?), and their committed entry to the gaming market is no different.
Following the event announcements, the blogosphere was awash with speculation about why the iPod Nano got a video camera, and the more expensive iPod Touch was passed over. In a NYTimes interview with David Pogue, Jobs explains that it came down to a question of cost. By not adding video capability to the iPod touch, Apple has clearly signaled that the costlier brother is headed in a different direction than it’s slimed down siblings.
“Originally, we weren’t exactly sure how to market the Touch. Was it an iPhone without the phone? Was it a pocket computer? What happened was, what customers told us was, they started to see it as a game machine,” he said. “We started to market it that way, and it just took off. And now what we really see is it’s the lowest-cost way to the App Store, and that’s the big draw. So what we were focused on is just reducing the price to $199. We don’t need to add new stuff. We need to get the price down where everyone can afford it.”
And therein lies the reasoning, plain and simple: The App Store. Apple senior VP Phil Schiller spoke to the App Store at last Thursday’s San Francisco event, stating that currently the App store has 21, 178 game available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and growing everyday. To put that in comparison, Nintendo’s DS has approximately 3,700 titles available, and Sony’s PSP comes in with a paltry 607. “They don’t really stack up anymore,” Schiller said. Adding another nail to the aging handheld’s coffin, Schiller pointed out that neither of these platforms have multitouch screens, anything even close to the scope of the App Store, and titles remain relatively expensive (on average $25 – $40) when compared to the Apple cost – ranging from free to $9.99.
Although not specifically addressed, it’s also important to remember that with the iPhone (and iPod Touch) OS 3.0 introduced microtransaction capability. Obviously, this option remains incredibly attractive to developers, who are looking for not only a hit, but a hit that they can monetize. Apple is also clearly taking steps to make making a hit more of a reality for games developers. The latest iPhone 3g S is more than capable of handling complex graphics, and supports the OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics standard. In other words, this hand held device is (technically) capable of reproducing graphics we’ve come to expect from ‘desktop only’ graphics processors of just a few years ago. While the 3g S still lacks bonafide OpenGL ES 2.0 compliant games in the App Store, Apple said that they’re slowly but surely making their way there, and will be available later this year.
All of this is fine and dandy, but until there’s developer backing, it’s all just words, no? If that be the case, Apple has received their first official handheld gaming device vote of confidence from Ubisoft. The sequel to their hit Assassin’s Creed is slated for a Nov. 11th release on consoles. Bucking the traditional trend of ‘wait a bit for the handheld version’, Ubisoft has stated that they’ll launch the iPhone/iPod Touch version of the game the very same day.
Many industry vets have long wondered what Apple’s stance on gaming was, and if and when an answer to the Xbox might even make an appearance. As with many of Cupertino’s greatest triumphs, Apple let consumers tell them what they wanted, and appropriately responded. I feel it’s fair to say that Apple revolutionized the portable music industry with the iPod, and arguably introduced the North American market to the microtransaction method. If they plan on attacking the gaming industry with the same fervor, mobile gaming might just be on the verge of another major leap.