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.