A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discusses Apple’s interest in competing with Nintendo in the portable games market. If I were Nintendo, I would be worried.
Nintendo has been able to beat previous handheld competitors, such as the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx, but Apple is different. Previous competition was focusing on games only, whereas the iPhone/iPod touch can do so many things very well. The Sony PSP does do a lot too, but not nearly as much or as well as the iPhone/iPod touch.
iTunes has helped Apple effectively sidestep brick and mortar retailers to provide digital content, which is the future of content distribution. Nintendo has few digital offerings, but these downloads are limited to the DSi, which makes up a small percentage of Nintendo’s handheld sales.
Developers of all sizes do not have to pay much for development costs and have a far easier time getting on the iPhone/iPod touch platform. Apple’s review process has been arbitrary and lengthy at times, but less restrictions have been placed for apps compared to DS games. There is also far more variety in content then the DS provides.
There is already a large library of games for the iPhone/iPod touch. There are poor titles in iTunes, but there are also many great games. These games are also priced cheap, which is attractive for consumers. DS games usually cost upwards of $30.
Apple does face some obstacles. Like the Wii, many developers have not designed games for the iPhone/iPod touch’s unique controls in mind and have ported games from other platforms that had “regular” controls. It is a way for large publishers to milk successful franchises. Publishers have been focusing more and more on popular franchise that do not stray to much from what made them successful, so care is not taken when brining games to the iPhone/iPod touch. At least for Nintendo they can make good games for the Wii’s controls. Apple must rely on third-party developers to make games that work well with the touchscreen.
The iPhone/iPod touch does not have as many great games as the DS. With Nintendo’s franchises on the DS, this is not surprising. The App Store has not been open for long (since July 2008), and with larger developers making a bigger push to bring popular franchises to Apple’s handheld, the gap will close between Apple’s and Nintendo’s portable game offerings.
It is hard to compete with a device that does many things well, which is why some companies have made devices that do one thing very well (the Kindle for example). Apple has been able to make a great multi-functional device, while Nintendo has not shown this yet. It will be interesting to see what Nintendo does to maintain dominance in the handheld market to ward off Apple.