Having just spent three incredibly inspiring days at Casual Connect Europe in beautiful Hamburg, there were - in respect of mobile games - two observations to be made: 1) the horror online and PC game developers express when looking at the fragmented space and the resulting "crazy" (quote) business models and 2) the iPhone is different, from a developer perspective this time.
Many, many developers of PC and Mac-based games (be it downloadable, online, browser-based) look at the iPhone as an entry gate to mobile gaming. A lot of the developers I spoke with were interested to work with a specialist mobile games company with a view to bringing their content across to the mobile platform but would not consider including the iPhone in this: "We'll do iPhone ourselves. It's a pretty easy platform to work towards and we understand the distribution model."
This is likely to mean that there will be an ever-growing influx of games from reputable and experienced game companies onto the iPhone, and this might just increase the gap between Apple's hit phone and the "rest" in content terms even more. Today, there are c. 4,500 games available for the iPhone (or so I hear; and remember that this is a mere 7 months or so after the AppStore launched), and a lot of providers are still missing on there. Whereas "traditional" mobile games have very high barriers to entry because of the complex (and hence expensive) landscape that one needs to address (hundreds of handsets, hundreds of distribution deals all to be struck with very big, often slow-moving "old-school" companies), none of this exists for the iPhone: Apple provides a simple agreement, there is one build to be delivered and one store where it is sold. Easy!
Irrespective of where the remainder of the mobile world will run (and they all seem to run now in order to catch up with the latest "Apple Revolution"), the AppStore is likely to become the first test case where game developers from different backgrounds (PC, online, etc vs. "traditional" mobile) will compete for customers directly. The former have a huge advantage in that they could leverage their online presence to promote the mobile version, too. This is only done by a few of the mobile "pure-plays" and it is tough to compete for eyeballs with an online games company that has 100m+ unique users per month. On the other hand, the mobile specialists have better knowledge about the specific mobile device constraints (which are very different to the ones on a PC).
Another interesting field to watch this year!