With Sony's Next Generation Portable project and the Nintendo 3DS on the horizon, it looks like the battle for the handheld market is heating up. But that doesn't concern me. In one fell swoop, my new iPhone has completely eliminated any need I had of a dedicated, on-the-go gaming device. It's got a phone, restaurant locators, real-time music identification software, cheap and interesting games, a thing that makes sounds like a gun, a program that lets you see how much hang time your iPhone catches after you throw it…. I hate to use Apple's prosaic and somewhat nonsensical slogan, but "there's an app for just about everything," no matter how stupid.
Initially, Nintendo's announcement of a new DS got me really excited. I love my DS, but the aging graphics often affect how much I can appreciate its games. When I saw the 3DS, I was dumbstruck. But the announcement of a half-baked attempt at an app store and a $250 price point left me cold.
Two of my biggest concerns as a consumer are a user-friendly online storefront and the availability of neat indie games; given the company's track record, it seems unlikely that Nintendo will provide either. Even if the device has better graphics than the PlayStation 2, I can't see a reason to run out and buy one when I've already got an iPhone in my pocket.
For me, Sony's NGP seems more promising than the 3DS. Say what you will about the PSP Go, the original PlayStation Portable was a step in the right direction for mobile gaming. If the NGP is actually the pocket PlayStation 3 that rumors indicate — with the ability to take titles like Uncharted and God of War on the go — then Sony may have a sale.
But still, the multitouch capabilities seem like an odd attempt to find parity with the iPhone. I could agree to this idea, but the PlayStation Network's Minis are far pricier than games on the App Store. I assume that Sony is going to try and use the Apple model for more downloadable games with the NGP, but unless they can gather a solid launch lineup with competitive prices, I'm sticking to the sidelines.
Recently, Nintendo's Reggie Fils-Aime stated his opinion that the App Store's pricing structure is driving down consumer expectations of the industry. I disagree. I think that they are secretly indoctrinating mothers across America into becoming hardcore Angry Birds fans. More simply, Apple is creating new customers.
When you look at it from a consumer's standpoint, the buyer is the person most likely to benefit. Why should I buy Tetris Party Deluxe on the DS for 30 bucks when I can buy Tetris on my iPhone for two? Hell, I’m playing Dead Space on my iPhone and loving it. I still need my consoles, but I no longer need a handheld that can't compete with what Apple's doing.
When Fils-Aime expressed his concern that Apple's pricing might hurt the market, I think he meant to say it might hurt his market. That I can agree to. If the folks at Nintendo (and Sony) don't step up their game, the only people buying their system a few years from now will be Pokémon fans. As for me, I'd take an iPhone 4 over a 3DS or the NGP any day of the week.