The struggle for the space between the hands is shaping up to be between the established Nintendo DS and the upstart iPod Touch/iPhone. What are the differences and what are the implications of the recently posted numbers for the iTunes App store -10,000 apps and games with 300,000,000 downloads? Where is Sony and the vaunted PSP? What is Microsoft not up to?
The DS is a marvel of thoughtful design, and in its current manifestation as the DS Lite, it has wonderful hand-feel, two sharp screens, and a battery system designed for children -it’s supposed to go 15-20 hours between charges and is rated for 500 charges. We got G one through Amazon for 125. The cost of entry is modest, but it is the content that they get you with. The games cost on average 35 dollars for the new releases. You can get used games on-line and through local dealers like FYE for a modest discount. The games from Nintendo proper tend to revolve around their established universes of Pokémon and Mario. Other publishers publish in Nintendo, but it’s a mixed bag. Some are slapdash ports of their console games or PC games which don’t project well. Some are fossils of PC games made in the 1990’s with all the blocky graphics moved over to the DS -very lazy way to make easy money with a shiny cover with a 35 dollar price tag. You have to read the reviews, but not all the games get reviewed. The well thought out games are standouts with pretty and appealing graphics, compelling story, and engaging gameplay. The greatness of Nintendo is that it does allow for use of legacy cartridges from the Gameboy Advanced, but not from prior generations. The Gameboy Advanced SP is now available online for around 40-50 bucks -I got ours new two years ago for 75 dollars, and will take Gameboy cartridges going all the way back to Tetris from 1988.
This is an old and established model of game consoles going all the way back to Atari -make modest profit on a discounted console and make coin on licensing of the games, and Nintendo certifies and manufactures all the cartridges. Cartridges allow for a deeper level of play than minigames -which is the new word for arcade games. The problem is unless you’re a kid on vacation -who has 20-40 hours to complete Pokémon Diamond or Call of Duty (on order -am on vacation). The minigames -the arcade style games, still cost 25-40 dollars, but are the most sociable -Mario Party (on order) is supposed to allow you to play with up to 8 players from a single cartridge -and this is the neat thing about the DS -it does allow for you to have one cartridge and share among several players -which promotes the purchase of more Gameboy’s in multi-sibling families. We got our second one through a generous friend who sent G this handsome blue one.
iPod Touch/iPhone/App Store
I believe that the combination of iPod Touch and App Store is the future of gaming and all portable entertainment. When you get an iPhone or iPod Touch, you have instant connection to the App Store which now features over 10,000 games. Apple vets these -very controversial in the geek-o-sphere, and the result is that the Apps pretty much work as advertised on the iPod Touch or iPhone. Because Apple limits the exchange of data between programs -allowing only one program to run at a time, it makes the system “locked down,” safe, and stable. The Apps are inventive, useful, and above all FUN. They are also much cheaper than buying cartridges. Many games are FREE, and most are 0.99 to 10.00, and you get very accurate reviews from actual users in the App Store. There is no need to drive to a store. My home has WiFi, as does my place of work, and this ubiquity of data-pipes means the iTunes store is ubiquitous as well.
My favorite games include Field Runners (reviewed earlier), and Flick Bowling. Apple’s Texas Hold ‘Em game is a good time sink. The great thing is that G and J both like the iPod Touch games and find them easy to learn and play, engaging, and easy to put down. The games take up a few megabytes at most and this means you can have hundreds of games on your iPhone without slowing it down -unlike the programs for Windows Mobile. Apple has pulled off a Trifecta -it owns the game box, the store, the TV (I watch most of my movies and TV via the iPhone), and the critical mass needed to move the market. It has created an ecosystem for capitalizing the exchange of content by making it easier to get this content for the average user -it takes a great deal of geekwork to get pirated free content, and a lot less effort for grabbing fun at $0.99 at a time legally.
Did I mention that with iPod Touch, you can load Fring -it lets you make telephone calls over a Wifi connection via Skype. How cool is that?
Bye Bye Sony and Windows
Sony has failed repeatedly in its history by trying to create a stranglehold on media standards -the Betamax, the MD Disc, the Memory Stick, Universal Media Disk (UMD), and Blu-Ray. I include Blu-Ray because high speed internet has rendered Blu-Ray obsolete. Apple is beginning to offer more of its content in HD, and the storage is now cheap enough that you can have a library of HD content in your living room. The iPhone’s display is gorgeous and basically is the same as watching a 50 inch screen at 15 feet -try it for yourself -when you walk away from a large screen TV to normal viewing distances, it’s basically the same as holding an iPhone at arm’s length. The problem for Sony is that it perseverates on making overpriced, overly complicated items that few deep pocket geeks enjoy. The Playstation Portable is a jewel -beautiful to hold and see -and it’s completely impossible to watch movies and TV shows on it without serious geek effort. Playstation -fuhgeddaboudit for now -it’s a compelling buy in about two years when they go bust, if you want to invest weeks learning how to play their games. The games cost 30-60 dollars!
Windows and Microsoft have failed with their Windows Mobile platform when at every moment until about three years ago, they had their feet on Apple’s neck. The WinMo phones are a bust -they crash and run very slow. It’s takes a computer science degree to buy third party programs for it and load it on without gumming up the phone with installers and other detritus. They make simple things difficult and annoying. X Box 360, which I don’t have, appears to shine compared to the usual Microsoft offerings, but is caught in Microsoft’s web of mutually intersecting interests and complications. The games also cost a lot compared to free or $0.99.
Apple -the last person on the island
The first year of Survivor was the most compelling -afterwords, it became unwatchable. The weird guy who was the final survivor made some brilliant moves to be the last one left. This is what has happened with Apple and will be Steve Jobs’ legacy. It realized that people respond to things that are easy to use and fun to play. The iPhone has only one big button and two smaller ones. The content is ubiquitously available through the web. For most students, iPod Touch also allows for true web access previously available only on laptops. The iPhone can be turned into a serious scientific calculator, a golf yardage machine, a GPS device for the car, a musical wind instrument (Ocarina), a level, a beat box, a game machine, and an infinite number of other things that for me represents the culmination of all the future stuff I used to see on sci-fi movies growing up. It’s also managing to sell a lot of laptops during a major recession.
The deep games -the ones requiring gigabytes of memory, are Nintendo DS’s strength. The iPhone has some content like Zork and other adventure games from the ’80’s and 90’s. What Nintendo must do is realize that WiFi is ubiquitous and unlock the DS’s capabilities. You should be able to get a widget you can plug in to download and play content and games from the web on your DS. Put Outlook on the DS along with Facebook with a keyboard for an adult version. It’s only a matter of time before Apple puts out a larger screen version of the Touch with more solid state memory and a 24 hour battery life.