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Will the iPhone kill the DS?

By on January 21, 2009

Earlier this month, TechCrunch reported a leaked investor email from iPhone developer Tapulous.

The company’s biggest success is a title called Tap Tap Revenge, a music game in the tradition of Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution. They have 5 million unique installs, 100,000 paying users and were the most popular game for the iPhone & iPod touch in 2008.

Not only do they sell the title, but it is a powerful marketing channel for music labels. Every Thursday Tap Tap Revenge offers users a free hot new or exclusive track from top artists such as Katy Perry, Anberlin, Everlast, Michael Franti, Lady Antebellum, Lee Perry, 3OH!3 and Bitter:Sweet.

The company’s plan was to hit 1 million users within 18 months of launch, and people were very sceptical. Within six months, they’re at 5 million users and growing. CEO Bart Decrem is convinced that the iPhone and the iPod touch are massively disruptive and this will create huge opportunities for existing companies.

Can mobile gaming really work?

I have always been deeply sceptical about mobile gaming, and when the iPhone launched with the AppStore, my thoughts were that Apple have cracked design and interface again, the AppStore is a million times better than any mobile operator’s deck, but mobile phone games have got off to so many false starts that I wouldn’t hold my breath.

But Tapolous have some statistics that really challenge that view:

  • 100 million app downloads in 90 days.
  • Tap Tap Revolution added 200,000 users in a single day in December 2008.
  • Six months into the App Store, there are three times more games available on the App Store than for the Nintendo DS, five times more than for the Sony PSP.
  • BusinessWeek argues that the iPhone will sell as many units in 12 months as the DS sold in 18 months.

It’s easy to argue that this is irrelevant: The Nintendo is a dedicated gaming device while the iPhone is a phone. Are all those purchasers really going to be gamers? Or is it a feeble attempt to pretend that Apple have got a gaming platform in the same way that Nokia argued they were the biggest gaming company in the world because they had embedded Snake in every handset.

iPod touch (Source: Barnaby Willitts-King)

Apple has an answer to that and its called the iPod touch. The iPhone was hugely popular but not every wanted or could afford the smart phone. So they launched the iPod touch which looks similar to an iPhone with the same touch screen and accelerometer, but it has no phone. It’s a WiFi-enabled handheld music and gaming device. And it is very very popular.

Apple’s products are effortlessly cool, they have intutive, flexible controls, its games are cheaper than Nintendo’s or Sony’s and with the AppStore, Apple has an easy-to-use online distribution model.

I am prepared to say I am wrong. I now believe that the mobile games market is coming to a strange hybrid model where games function equally well on a iPhone (mobile handset, always connected, older demographic) and on an iPod touch (WiFi connectivity, not on all the time, younger demographic). 

It is a real threat to the handheld market (much more so for PSP than for DS, given the demographics), it should be a wake-up call to the monolithic and frankly useless content divisions of the mobile operators, and it is Apple that has made it happen.


About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: