For me, the most interesting thing about the iPhone isn't the games. Yes, there are thousands of them at this point, and yes, most of them are complete crap. Nor is it the hardware itself, which could easily give the DS a run for its money if developers stopped making games that rely on some kind of sloppy virtual D-pad. No, what fascinates me is the difference in enthusiasm between game developers and hardcore gamers about Apple's new platform.
For industry professionals, the iPhone offers some amazing new opportunities to get their games in front of players without a lot of the hassles of console development. Need an example? Look no further than the price of the dev kit: For the iPhone, it's $100; most other SDKs run upwards of $10,000. That low barrier to entry means that everyone from old guard developers like John Carmack and George Broussard to indie upstarts like Adam Saltsman is getting in on the action.
Ironically, I get the impression that hardcore gamers are skeptical of the iPhone for the same reason that many developers praise it: It's just too easy. Bored for a few minutes and want something to play? Just hop onto the App Store, and 99 cents later, you're the proud owner of iWordJumble 6! Don't worry about mastering a complicated set of controls - just paw at the screen, and the game practically plays itself! Get tired of it after a few minutes? No worries - another throw-away game is just a few clicks away! The hardware may carry a hefty price tag, but gaming on the iPhone can feel pretty cheap.
Of course, that's sort of the point. Today, there are more than 40 million iPhone and iPod Touch owners, many of whom are still oblivious to the handhelds' gaming capabilities. But when all it takes is 99 cents to get started, that's a lot of new gamers being created out of thin air. And while iWordJumble 6 or MatchThree Lite may not be that impressive, other games are using the device's multitouch screen and accelerometer to create entirely new gameplay experiences.
This week, The Escapist takes a closer look at the iPhone, the object of game developers' affection and hardcore gamers' cynicism. Les Chappell investigates the iPhone's potential for resurrecting retro gameplay; Robert Stoneback asks why the handheld's touch-based gaming isn't a little racier; Phillip Miner discusses the iPhone's popularity in Japan; and I speak with Trip Hawkins, founder of EA and CEO of mobile developer Digital Chocolate.