As Apple prepares to release a software development kit that will give programmers greater flexibility in creating applications for the iPhone, some are wondering whether this might be the company's first step into the handheld videogame market.
Apple has thus far been content to dip a toe in the gaming waters, not counting the company's 1996 gaming console, the Pippin. But the touchscreen functionality of the iPhone, coupled with iTunes' ability to deliver games on demand, has some industry watchers saying that a full-on Apple entrance into gaming might not be far away.
"Even if they don't come out with their own dedicated device, the ability to play more advanced games on the iPhone is a natural way for them to enter the market," says Roger Ehrenberg of Information Arbitrage.
No convergence device has ever been able to break Nintendo's 20-year monopoly on the handheld-games business. But iPhone's touchscreen and built-in accelerometer means it could capitalize on the same control revolution that has caused Nintendo DS to be an unprecedented success, selling more than 65 million units worldwide since its launch in 2004. Although these interface features are currently inaccessible to game developers, the iPhone SDK is widely expected to enable programmers to use the multitouch and orientation-sensing aspects of the iPhone interface in order to create their own games.
Using iTunes as a delivery platform would mean that Apple could sell the games for $5, not $35 -- a trend Apple already seems to be embracing on the iPod platform. Apple has courted big-name developers to release 30 games for the iPod classic, including Tetris, Ms. Pac-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog.
At this point, "it's a matter of simply turning up the volume," Ehrenberg says.