The New PC?

By Alec Meer on June 11th, 2008 at 12:03 am.

Not pictured: the broken, tiny hands of the slave-children who constructed it

Is the iPhone 3G actually the portable PC? I know far too many people who’ve said ‘that’s it, I’m getting an iPhone’ come yesterday’s announcement of genuinely affordable new model, so I get the feeling it’s about to become a frighteningly ubiquitous device. Not iPod ubiquitous, probably, but, well, Nokia must be bricking it. What really interests me about it is that the new version is accompanied by long-awaited support for third-party applications – including games.

Not many games, so far, and especially not many to truly excite. Monkey Ball’s had its moment in the sun, right? But Spore’s due to turn up on it eventually, and if that pans out then anything goes. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to eventually see some World of Warcraft facet for it, given Blizzard’s longstanding Mac hardware friendliness – even if it’s just a mini-app for checking the auction house or chatting with your guildmates on the move. Meanwhile, there’s already at least one iPhone MMO on the way, in the shape of Parallel Kingdom.

From what I understand these third-party apps require Apple approval and are sold through iTunes, which somewhat takes the fun and freedom out of things, but still – it’s not quite as closed (officially, at least) a platform as the DS and PSP. There should be more options and less cost than those offer. Its games will be in purely digital format too – no manufacture or distribution costs involved whatsoever, which bodes well for high variety, indie and ports of classics. And, of course, there’ll be the hacking community, no doubt offering endless, illicit iQuakes and iX-Coms for those prepared to risk their warranty.

What really makes me suspect this could end up being one of the most signifcant gaming platform launches in some time is that that no-one’s buying it specifically as a games platform, so there’ll be none of the staring blankly at the unappealing racks full of licensed dross and sick sense of having wasted a lot of money that typified the first months of DS and PSP. Instead, the gaming will creep in slowly.

It’s being bought predominantly for productivity and communication (specifically, the internet), as most PCs are. Perhaps this PC-in-your-pocket can blossom naturally into a gaming platform once people at large become accustomed to its presence and to the concept of downloading, not purchasing, games. Depending on what Apple’s approval terms are, I suspect we’ll see a number of indie devs try their hand at it.

The question is whether it accompanies PC gaming or threatens it. I rather suspect the former, for the practical issues of squinting and jabbing at a small screen for extended periods if nothing else. Plus, of course, you need a PC (or a Mac) to stick stuff onto the damn thing in the first place. In either case, if iPhone gaming does explode over the next few months, does it count as PC gaming? If, say, Dwarf Fortress or Trials 2 came out for it, should RPS post about it? I honestly don’t know, and I guess I won’t until if and when the ubiquity’s sufficient to force us to decide. I guess by that token it could be said we should cover Mac gaming here, but, well, the vast majority of that is simply late in the day ports of PC titles. This, by contrast, will get its own games.

Again, in many ways the iphone’s a closed platform, the absolute antithesis of what we most love about the PC as a gaming machine – but it nevertheless shares many of the same values and concepts as our do-it-all delight. Sure, PDAs and smartphones have been taking those same values and concepts into truly portable form for some time now, but the prospect of this becoming so much more widely-owned a platform means that much more of the industry will develop for it. Equally though, there’s every chance that endless gimmickery, lazy ports and typically harsh Apple restrictions could kill its gaming potential stone dead. Interesting times either way.

And yes, I’m probably going to get one myself. I’m weak like that.

__________________

« | »

, , .

58 Comments »

  1. Noc says:

    I think it counts. Apple’s restrictions, I think, are mostly just indicative of it being prototypical: in a couple years, when these things are like little PCs in every respect, you’d feel a little silly for refusing to cover them while they were growing up.

    Then again, trends are suggesting that the same sort of thing might be happening with consoles, too.

  2. Lh'owon says:

    I’m certainly considering one. The thing is with games there’s very little reason for anything to be blocked by Apple, except perhaps dodgy pay-as-you-play schemes or what have you. I mean, a game is a game. I think the one major restriction will be potential IP violations – I’ll be very surprised if we ever see Doom on the iPhone. Marathon is open source though, and that would be SWEET.

  3. RichPowers says:

    The new PC? I sure as hell hope not…my hands sweat constantly, making it impossible to effectively use any touch screen device. Surely I can’t be the only one whose iPhone experience was ruined by this lame condition.

    And RPS probably shouldn’t post about iPhone games until a)the iPhone has a significant market share b)people actually use the iPhone for gaming. For all the blowjobs the media gives Steve Jobs, the iPhone is still a bit player in the real world.

  4. BobJustBob says:

    It doesn’t even have a keyboard!

    I have an iPod Touch and the accelerometer works pretty well, but the onscreen keyboard is rubbish. I don’t see how any keyboard-based game would be even remotely playable.

  5. Sideath says:

    I didn’t get the first iPhone because of it’s stupidly large price. Not that the new 3G one is /that much/ cheaper (and I’m already on a contract that I will have to suffer under for 12 more months), but a pay-as-you-go version is coming out – and that does seem tempting, but then, it would probably cost about the same as an eeeeeeePC, and I know which I would prefer. I played around on an eePC the other day, the flash HDD does make a huge difference.

    But the iPhone = new PC? No. Even iPhone = new DS seems a rather silly statement.

  6. Zarniwoop says:

    Increasingly, the only thing which significantly sets PCs apart from consoles any more is the fact that they are generally operated with keyboards and mice. Sure, cover iphones if they get a version of a well-loved pc game, but the way people will interact with these devices will always be very different to the way people interact with PCs. After all, interaction is all games are really about, and only real way to differentiate between games is how we interact with some, as opposed to others.

  7. Zeno says:

    Man, I was hoping from the article title that the ApeXtreme was coming back…

    Anyways, the iPhone as the new PC? Lay off the drugs. PC gaming will likely move to handheld some day soon, but it won’t be on this clumsy device.

  8. ShawnyD says:

    I’m another sucker for the new iPhone, skipped on the first one though. Is anyone else looking forward to the Android phone from google? From what I hear, it’s completely open source, expect the phone carrier obviously.

  9. Ted says:

    I don’t know anyone who has an old iphone or has any interest in this version. If it’s not a Blackberry no one cares about it in the business world.

  10. PhysicalEd says:

    Other than multi-touch and accelerometers, it doesn’t do anything that my Windows Mobile smartphone doesn’t do (and which is a completely open platform btw). And it has buttons and keys to make up for that. So if you start treating the iPhone as a PC, then do it for Smartphones (at least high end ones).

    Which opens Pandoras box. I’d vote for keeping RPS actual real PC only…

  11. jungleFish says:

    @Ted: What business are you in? I see these _all the time_ when I go to conferences and such.

    @PhysicalEd: I had a WM phone for a little while, but then I ditched it and got an iPhone. Why? With iPhone I don’t have to press 4 buttons to do a single task. What I see, I click, without having to mess around with navigation pads, left-and-right selection buttons, etc. Oh, and the keyboard on the iPhone is at least as easy to use as the one I had on my Blackjack.

    That said, the iPhone isn’t a PC any more than the XBOX is a PC. Technically, they’re the same deep inside, but their usage model is totally different. PC games, to me, are distinct, as Zarniwoop said, mostly in their control scheme. Being able to point-and-click, circle-and-drag, etc is what makes them PC games. (Although, now that I think about it, I’m currently playing Beyond Good And Evil on my PC and it’s definitely designed for a control pad instead of the mouse…)

    Okay, actually, maybe PC games are special because you can find games that DON’T follow the standard, well-trodden ruts that most console games fall into. The flexible control scheme and multiple delivery systems (Flash, 3D engines, etc) make it suitable for pretty much any type of game you could think of. Consoles can’t make that claim, and neither can the iPhone.

    But you know what? Why should you guys say “I’m not going to cover it because _______.” If it’s interesting to you (RPS contributors) then by all means talk about it here. I’d be all eyes.

  12. mootzilla says:

    Monkeyball is probably the last game I’d want for the iPhone, if the levels on it are anything like the levels in the previous games I’d most likely end up hurling the goddamn thing through a wall.

    In any case, unless some sort of controller add on gets released, not many games are going to control too well on it. I’ve tried games with my iPod Touch (don’t tell anybody I jailbroke it) and anything with more complex controls than pointing and clicking really don’t work well at all. I could see Popcap sort of games working really well with it, though. Peggle on my iPod? I’d buy that.

  13. Matu says:

    What jungleFish said.

  14. devlocke says:

    I don’t really see any portable device supplanting what I consider to be “PC” gaming because I see games that are meant to be played anywhere, and on-again-off-again, as very different from games that are meant to be played “Sit down for quite a bit and delve into something deep”. But that may be because I’m an American living below the poverty line, and my only portable experience was with a GBA that I managed to lose track of a year or two ago.

    I don’t really tend to categorize the games I play into anything more narrow than “action”, “strategy”, and “RPG” and even there, it blurs a bit. But when I think about the games I’ve played on a portable device, they’re all intrinsically different from the games I play on the PC, and I think that’s because they’re intended for portable usage by a portable audience. I don’t see any reason to imagine that the magical iPhone is going to be somehow different. I mean, every platform either has or could conceivably have the type of gaming experience that I look for on the PC, but the broad majority of portable games just don’t fill that void. I don’t think they want to.

    For the record, I’m not really sure what’s so cool about the iPhone. I have a hatred of all things Apple related because of their long history with proprietary systems, so I don’t really keep up with what they’re doing. All that looks interesting about the iPhone is that it can tell how you’re tilting it, and has a decent touch screen. I suppose that’s neat, but grounds for claiming it will replace the PC…? The idea of a relatively open platform for development may be revolutionary amongst cellphones, but it’s not revolutionary for “portable devices”, as pointed out above. And it’s certainly nothing the PC doesn’t already offer.

    EDIT: Oh yeah, as far as RPS coverage goes, cover it to your heart’s content, or don’t. Your covering things that are ‘PC related’ solely is self-imposed, and as long as you’re fine with putting it up, I’ll certainly read it. I don’t read RPS because it’s PC-centric (though I did at first), I read it because consistently a blast to read. Wouldn’t bother me if you went NeoGeo-exclusive. I’d still check it out every day.

  15. Robin says:

    Hopefully this comment won’t sound too much like I’m chuckling condescendingly at the naivety of the OP – I’ve been doing Mobile Stuff for ages and some of these speculations come up almost as often as “what, like Snake, yeah?” when you tell people your work involves mobile games.

    Nokia/Sony-Ericsson/Samsung et al probably aren’t quaking in their boots just yet. Apple’s target for the iPhone is to sell 10m of the things in 2008 (mostly in the US). Given that the big boys in the handset market shift hundreds of millions of units *per quarter*, Apple don’t represent a competitive threat.

    To make a weak and probably somewhat faulty analogy, the iPhone is like the Neo Geo to everyone else’s Sega/Nintendo/Commodore/etc. You can make dazzling games for the sliver of the market that have one, but you need to considerably retool them to take them anywhere else. Even if the iPhone saturates the market for techies and media types, that leaves vast swathes of the market untapped. What it will do is encourage everyone else in the mobile biz to take data traffic, web apps, digital distribution and ultimately games more seriously.

    Regarding the World of Warcraft vestigial limb applicationTM, this example seems to be hardwired into people’s brains as the first thing they think of when people mention ‘cross platform possibilities’. The practical way to implement something like that would be a website. Something that the user has to download and pay for needs to be a full-blown game, not a utility program, and needs to be relevant to the whole iPhone userbase, not just WoW subscribers.

    As for licensed dross, the fact that it’s not aimed at gamers guarantees it. Expect Pac-Man, Zuma and Tetris to squat at the top of the iTunes games menu forever. Although hopefully it won’t be too hard to drill down to more interesting stuff. Having to get everything certified by Apple is of course silly moneygrubbing balls on their part, but if it’s popular enough it’ll get circumvented, or Apple will be forced to rethink.

    My prediction (to be brought up and laughed at two years from now) is that Google’s efforts will be much more nimble than what Apple try to do, with their obsessive need to own every part of the system. Google will achieve critical mass and with it the advertising dollars and attention from content providers.

    Finally, SURELY the iPhone can download stuff over the air / wifi rather than needing to dock it with a PC/Mac? That would be rather limiting.

  16. Anthony Damiani says:

    It uses a closed, proprietary system that has limited-to-no interoperability with non-i hardware. It enjoys neither keyboard, nor mouse. Its system capabilities are radically different from any modern desktop. It has a handheld form-factor.

    It’s it’s own thing. It’s reasonably cool and all. But it ain’t a PC, and shouldn’t be covered as such.

  17. mootzilla says:

    @Robin: You can already download music from the iTunes store over wifi, so I’d imagine it would be the same for the App store or whatever they’re calling it. It would a bit of an own goal if they didn’t let you do that for apps considering the functionality is already there, anyway,

  18. Sucram says:

    A Personal Computer is a computer that is practical for purchase and use by an individual. By that reasoning just about all our electronics are PCs.

    If you don’t want to go with that, then we are taking about the descendents of the IBM compatible.

  19. A.Nonny.Moose says:

    And its a pig to program for, as it uses a different language to Everybody Else.

    (Yes I know MS are making people program in c# for XNA, but objective C is too far removed from c++, imo. Plus, and I hate to say it, c# is actually a decent language. I feel slightly dirty now….)

  20. MeestaNob! says:

    With the addition of a (recognised) gaming capability on the iPhone and the suggestion that Nintendo should be worried, I still cant help but wonder if I’d rather Nintendo added a phone to it’s DS rather than Apple add a gaming function to it’s iPhone.

    I know it’s a whole different style of format, but Apple have a sustained track record of OS’ and hardware that renders old software more than 2-3 years old useless.

    The iPhone is still missing quite a few features standard in most phones, so the jury is still well and truly out.

  21. PhysicalEd says:

    @jungleFish I hear you, but aren’t those navigation pads, left-and-right selection buttons etc. exactly what you need to control most games?

    I’ve seen a couple of very impressive games targeted directly at the iPhone and designed around the tilt control. But for lots of other games you’ll need buttons. Which means soft buttons taking up screenspace with your fingers over the display you are trying to look at…

  22. The Sombrero Kid says:

    it’s going to raise the baseline form mobile phone games development and that make me happy open gl no more stinky java! and it performance is much like a ds, the revenue model is simple as well, i reckon it’ll be between this and ngage for mobile gaming, tbh though i’d put my money on this.

  23. Dinger says:

    I read this article this morning in bed on my n800, and thought: “maybe.” But I was too lazy to use the non-keyboard to type a response.

    The iPhone is a media red herring. Yes, it’s selling well in the US, where the cell companies run everything in their interest, so only 30% of the population uses cell phones at all. No, it didn’t sell well in Europe or Asia. Maybe it did okay out there in the UK, but here on the continent, I’ve only seen it once, and I was pretty loaded at the time.

    But there is a revolution under weigh involving lightweight portable computing. The old paradigm of “Power, Price, Portability: Choose one” has been shattered. Now we get people replacing their laptops with cheaper, lighter, and less powerful devices. Nobody here ever takes their Eee with them for remote reporting, right?
    My n800 has allowed me to buy a big fat desktop and have mobile internet/skype/navigation/word processing (I use a BT keyboard), getting me more power, efficiency and portability than a do-it-all laptop, and for much less money.
    The next generation is gonna be good, and the iPod’s price drop reflects the coming competition. nVidia’s got something pocketable (ARM11) with a built-in video chip that will process 1080p HD. Too bad it runs Windows CE.
    Yeah, these things can run games, but not necessarily the same games as desktop PC ones. The strength of this new class of devices is that they work best in places and situations where the computer is not the focus of activity. It’s not always face-in-front-of-screen. It’s face-in-front-of-face, with a screen at hand.
    How does that translate to games? I dunno, but finding out will be interesting. At this moment, the most efficient way to find out is to let people tinker and exchange ideas and tricks. The more open the platform, the better the chances are of this happening.

  24. James T says:

    Peggle on my iPod? I’d buy that.

    I’ve got Peggle on my Ipod Classic; hoovers up the battery like a son of a bitch, but I have the option!
    …Ah, the store tells me they don’t have a version for the Touch though; shame.

    The thought of being able to make calls and/or go online with my Ipod is pretty appetising, but the reason I went for the player and model I did is that I wanted something that’d provide me with a shitload of portable storage for any contingency (80Gb in this case); I’d lose that if I got an Iphone, so why would I go for one of them over a shmick Nokia (or whatever) phone like Mr Greatest-page-in-the-universe has up above? So no iPhonery for me!

    (cue grave warnings about hard-drive vs flash memory; cue strident counterpoint about great big HD capacity!)

  25. The Sombrero Kid says:

    @Dinger
    i kinda agree with you actually but i mostly make mobile games and would like the ipod to take off since it’s a hell of a lot better than j2me

  26. cliffski says:

    I use my phone to call people. And that’s it. I have a big expensive, high spec beast of a PC on my desk if I want to play games.
    Games look best on big screens, why people seriously get into games on a tiny tiny tiny phone is beyond me.

  27. Butler` says:

    My phone contract is up soon. Not sure whether to get one of these new iPhones P.A.Y.G. or an Eee.

  28. FredrikFtw says:

    ScummVM for iPhone: http://wiki.scummvm.org/index.php/IPhone

  29. James T says:

    Games look best on big screens, why people seriously get into games on a tiny tiny tiny phone is beyond me.

    Because they take the train alot. But that doesn’t really make it an exciting game medium, no… “It’s like a PC, but with an immensely less versatile interface, and a screen that’d fit on your palm with room to spare!” Sure, resourceful designers can theoretically thrive under such strictures, but what we’re really gonna be seeing for it is ports. Ports ports ports.

    ScummVM for portables? Awesome; wouldn’t wanna try reading the text though.

  30. phuzz says:

    Meh, I think my flatmate might buy one, but he’s a mac fanboi.
    Thing is, there’s a lot of talk about the iPhone taking over from the DS or PSP, but in terms of numbers it’s never going to happen, apple want to sell 10 million phones, and you’ve got to assume that not everyone will be interested in games on it.
    Nintendo have sold something like 70M DS’s, and judging from the advert I saw last night, they’re not going to stop until they’ve sold one to everyone, then they’ll sell every house a Wii and only stop when the DS2 (or whatever) comes out and they’ll start again.
    Basically, no one is going to be able to compete with Nintendo on handhelds, at least this generation.

  31. Joel says:

    If you’ll pardon the self-link, I talked to a few Mac developers about this very thing: http://gadgets.boingboing.net/2008/03/07/is-the-iphone-the-ne.html

    I’m convinced that it’s going to be a serious outlet for indie and small-time game developers. It’s not the perfect mobile games platform, but with an installed base of over 6 million users already, all of who will be able to buy games over-the-air starting next month, it doesn’t have to be. I don’t need the iPhone to kill the DS; I just need the iPhone to have any game I want to buy.

  32. Mark says:

    I don’t see why Viva Pinata or even many of the more complex RTS games couldn’t be refactored for the device.

    I seem to remember a lot of talk before the Dreamcast (with it’s VMU) and before the Wii with the DS of supportive applications which added to games, allowing you to create/edit/view content on the move.
    I’d quite like to see some clever developers do something similar with the iPhone (perhaps what Spore’s doing, hadn’t heard of that before)

    Lots of tat-potential there, but I could imagine some really inventive apps.

  33. Ginger Yellow says:

    I don’t object to the iPhone per se, and the interface is very nice, but I certainly won’t be buying one. On my current (free with contract) phone, I can surf the web with a near-PC tabbed browser (including embedded flash video) and free data up to 1GB, watch Freeview telly, use push email for home and work, use third party apps and games, read office and Acrobat documents, stream my PC media from anywhere in the world, record video, play online poker, use Skype, IM, GPS, WiFi, Google Maps, and so on. The new iPhone has just about caught up with my free N95 8GB. Why would I pay money for it? What I would buy is a large storage (160GB+) iPod Touch, but Apple won’t sell me one.

  34. Thomas says:

    Oh, sure. Because Apple’s been so good about encouraging gaming on their other platforms.

  35. Tom says:

    The iphone, like the ipod are ‘defective by design.’
    If you’re not allowed to do what you want with the device, you do not own it. Its quite simple. The same applies to gaming consoles, which is the reason why I play PC-GAMES.
    I own the hardware, and I can do what I want with it.
    So the real question should be, ‘is the iphone the next-gen pocket-console with a phone screwed on?’
    Anything else is just embarrassing…

  36. cliffski says:

    That doesn’t make it ‘defective’, any more than a car fitted with a speed limiter is ‘defective’. it just means the manufacturer has placed restrictions on its use.
    using the term ‘defective’ is just posturing.
    If people don’t like the terms of use, then they are (gasp!) free to not buy that specific phone / console.

  37. Jonathan says:

    N-Gage.

  38. araczynski says:

    i think opening the door to the business world (with activesync/exchange/etc) will do wonders for their sales. like was said, without those features, most IT staff have no interest in supporting disconnected systems.

    that being said, i have a blackberry 8830 from work, and while it syncs with our exchange setup very nicely, web surfing on the thing is a joke. even with the miniopera browser. the screen resolution is too small to display pretty much any web site in a useful manner. that is if the thing can even handle 60% of the more advanced content on a typical site. i’m not a big fan of the ‘keyboard’ on the thing either.

    i think $200 is still too high for our place, when they’re competing against discounted blackberries that can be had for less than $50 with monthly plans under $80 for voice/data/etc.

    the ipod touch however has be intrigued, i think its what the video ipods should have been from the start.

  39. Gap Gen says:

    Considering I don’t spend more than £40-50 on phone calls per year and have a £10 phone, I doubt I’ll be sold on this overpriced thing. I can probably live without struggling to look up something on Wikipedia wherever I am. Plus if I could SSH from anywhere, I’d feel like I should be doing work from anywhere. Maybe.

    My main problem is Apple fanboys, really. Apple are free to make nice but overpriced hardware if they want, but if they release much more smarmy propaganda that gullible idiot coprophages love, I might have to kill an Apple employee every hour until they stop.

  40. Sam says:

    The smartphone doesn’t have a chance of becoming “the new PC” until they solve the two problems of tiny computers – the Display Problem (tiny displays are horrible) and the Interface Problem (tiny keyboards / trackpads are horrible).
    The iPhone goes a long way to solving the Interface Problem with the multitouch interface, but the Display Problem still looms large. Maybe next year, when they bundle a microprojector in the iPhone 3, it might start to solve that, too…

  41. Gap Gen says:

    Actually, one gripe I have with the iThings is that they go from freakishly shiny to grubby and scratched in about a minute of being released from their box.

  42. Chris Keegan says:

    GPS games !
    With your friends etc
    I can really see some interesting things happening with that.
    Like GPS doom with other iphone users on the tube etc. think about it.

  43. Ferrous Buller says:

    Does RPS bother to cover Windows Mobile or other smartphone games? If not, I don’t see why you would bother to cover iPhone games.

  44. Jonathan says:

    Anyone know the battery life of an iPhone at full pelt (full colour and stereo). If its anything like an ipod the battery life will be cut by about 75% at least.

    Really don’t see how this has anything to do with PC games.

  45. Robin says:

    Sam: I think those are only problems if you’re thinking of playing games that were designed for desktop, keyboard and mouse without modification. The DS and PSP manage with poxy screens and a lack of keyboards/buttons.

  46. Sam says:

    Robin: yes, but the question wasn’t “is the iPhone the next DS”, was it? ;) I’m fairly sure that it could compete handily in the space of portable gaming machines, but to be the Next PC, it needs more comfortable and involving interaction.

  47. Biggles says:

    I’ve got to admit, I’m quite a fan of my iPhone. I read RPS on it every day and am really looking forward to seeing some proper games coming out. I get what you’re trying to say about the PC similarity too in that we’ll hopefully get a lot of the little quirky sorts of games that you guys often cover. I’m seriously considering getting some kind of mac (probably a mini) so that I can use the SDK even though I normally can’t stand the desktop OS. There are just so many good reasons to develop for it as an indie… 6 million might not make it the biggest target base but it’s certainly big enough if you make a killer app/game. There’s loads of control options too, like pointy clicky, dynamic buttons, gestures, multitouch, motion/orientation sensitivity, gps, microphone… As well as the onscreen keyboard. There’s loads of possible game types! Plus the ease of delivery and purchase. It’ll be interesting to see where things stand when android hits the market…

  48. Pod says:

    Post about whatever the hell you want. Who gives a toss if it’s not strictly a PC? It’s your site, rememeber?

  49. np says:

    As an iPhone owner I can testify that it truly has gone beyond being considered a simple mobile phone and does in-fact act more like a miniature tablet PC, so much so that you find yourself crying out for added features associated with PCs (like copy + paste, printing, writing word docs, scientific calculator and not least.. games), simply because you feel like they should be there.

    As not being a avid handheld gaming fan, I would welcome any coverage and criticism you could offer on the device and it’s entry bid into emergent mobile gaming market.