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For many gamers, the iPhone (and iPad, and Android, but for convenience I’m going to just use “iPhone”) is a somewhat frightening prospect. The lack of physical buttons and the mass of $0.99 unengaging minigames makes for a gaming platform that many would rather ignore.

But in reality it’s impossible to ignore the inevitability – a significant portion of the games market, both hardcore and casual, is going to be taken up smart phone and tablet gaming in the future. This is not to predict the demise of traditional consoles, but what was once niche will become niche again – that time of mainstream popularity for games consoles will fade even as the overall games industry grows.
To start with, some numbers. The iPhone 5 topped two million preorders in the first 24 hours after it was announced. That’s almost as many PlayStation Vitas that have been sold since it was released at the start of the year. In the broader smart phone market (which is almost entirely made up of Apple and Android phones), 144.9 million smart phones were shipped in just the first three months of 2012, according to IDC statistics.
Not everyone with a smartphone plays games, but then if even a small fraction of people with smartphones play games on them, then the install base for gaming applications on smartphone is easily as large, if not larger, than traditional consoles.
This would be for nothing if there were no decent games to play on the smartphones and tablets, but as much as the traditional console fans would like to bury the head in the sand and pretend there aren’t, the reality is that there are a lot of decent games on smartphones and tablets. Publishers love the iPhone. It’s cheap to develop on (no real licensing fees, and they don’t even need to go through the age classification process that traditional games do). While discoverability is a problem for smaller publishers, the likes of EA, Square Enix and Ubisoft don’t need to worry about that. Though there’s a belief that there’s no way to sell apps for more than $0.99 on the app store, the reality is that “premium” priced content does sell.
Because publishers love the iPhone, publishers dedicate resources to game development on the iPhone. Square Enix has released no fewer than six high-quality iOS games in just the past couple of weeks. Starting with The World Ends With You, and continuing through a Final Fantasy game to some more experimental stuff like Drakerider (pictured), the consistency here is that they are premium-priced games, often exclusive to iOS, and Square Enix elected to release the games on iOS, not the PSN, and not XBLA.
On the other end of the ocean is western publisher, EA, which has an active M&A team. The constant theme for EA acquisitions? Mobile game developers. Game development takes significant resources, so when the major publishers are all investing those resources in mobile development, it’s a clear sign where the money and market interest is.
And now the iPhone 5 is coming, and for all the criticisms of it, is clearly going to sell well. It’s only a matter of time before a game controller accessory goes from being a nice novelty to seeing some real traction with the support of the big guys, and when that happens, iPhone gaming will have resolved the one criticism that is left to make about iPhone gaming.
Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo will continue to cater to their audiences, and because Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are more interested in games than Apple, the company, there will always be an advantage there. Exclusives happen because the platform holders put money into making the exclusives happen. Apple’s unlikely to do that, so the iPhone and iPad will likely never have that AAA-exclusive like a new numbered Final Fantasy or Assassin’s Creed.
What it will do though is come to dominate the mid and low-tiers of game development. The hidden gems and cult classics will find a new home on the iPad and iPhone, and so those devices will become absolutely essential for anyone who enjoys gaming more than the occasional Call of Duty-style blockbuster. 

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  • "The iPhone 5 topped two million preorders in the first 24 hours after it was announced."
    I saw those numbers and thought, "Well, at least Apple releases numbers, Nintendo is silent on a lot these days."

    As for the title, "It's inevitable: The iPhone and iPad will be essential gaming devices" I think they/the mobile phone market is already, and the cross-app function will continue to grow…which I'm looking forward to (probably more so when I get a smart-phone).

    Maybe a good analogy would be like a full course meal: appetizers, main course, sides, and dessert? They all work together for the "complete" meal? The mobile apps will continue to be developed to interact with the console games, helping extend/better the experience. BUT, sometimes you may just want dessert for dinner, and you have that option also.

  • It's a good analogy, it's just that the crossover is becoming more and more pronounced – traditional consoles are now starting to see freemium and "bite sized" games, and the iPad and iPhone now boast a lineup of games you would be happy to play on a console.

    But that said I really love your idea of developers using apps to enhance console game experiences. With Cloud computing there's some really innovative stuff that can be done there. I would love to see a FIFA console game with iPad support for stat tracking or team management when you're away from the console, for instance.

    Obviously the Wii U is heading in that direction (not to mention PS3/ Vita crossplay, and Microsoft's Surface is precisely what I'm talking about here), but there's much to be done yet. Developers – especially third parties – are not even close to realising the potential there yet.

  • I've had a couple of iPads bouncing around my house for some time, and every now and then I play a game on them when the TV's tied up or that sort of thing. They're always sort of my plan C though – seeing as console/PC is #1 and a handheld like 3DS or PSP is #2.

    I somewhat recently got my first iPhone however, and am finding thta I use that a *lot* – largely because it is with me where as the iPad? Eh, it was usually with my wife or oldest – I didn't carry it around much myself. But my phone? That's on me all of the time and I've been finding it a nice diversion on things like my lunch breaks or waiting for meetings to start, things like that. The convenience is nice, especially since it's a bit more discrete. With a phone you can be texting, checking work email, etc – poking at one of two screens with a stylus is a bit more obvious. 😛

  • Have you seen I thought the website was cute and am curious to see how loud it can grow.
    Not that it will make a difference…the current management would never let it happen.
    Plus, whether or not it is the inevitable endgame, it isnt like it will magically be the cure for their ailing revenues!

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