iPod Touch mounts Handheld Gaming Challenge

A recent article discussed the rise and rise of the iPod Touch (that's the iPhone without the phone). It apparently surged to the top of Amazon's sales charts, and mobile ad firm AdMob reports that ads served to the device more than tripled between November and December to 292m. This growth is said to even shadow growth of iPhone ads served and is being called, well, unprecedented. People are said to shun the forced marriage with AT&T's long-term phone plan that come with the iPhone. Makes you think (if you're an operator).

That's all fine and dandy but I thought this was probably a good time to look at the iPod's role as a handheld gaming device again. This was sparked by a remark from one of the Kleiner Perkins' chiefs (they're the ones who set up the iFund, which invests exclusively into companies active in the iPhone/iPod Touch ecosphere) noting that the iPod Touch was now asserting itself as a more versatile alternative to the Nintendo DS or Sony's PSP. This has of course been discussed for a while. The sales figures of the iPod Touch now seem to back these early (and initially largely theoretical) thoughts. 

Nintendo has been keenly aware of this even before the recently published app download numbers were out. In the words of the CEO of Nintendo US (from the above WSJ article):
"Whether you chose to play on your DS or listen to music on your iPod, we're already in the same competitive space for time."
And whilst one could argue about the pound-for-pound comparison of pure touchscreen vs devices with gamepads for certain types of games, the huge upside Apple has created is the hassle-free and easy distribution model for games: a DS developer needs to buy the cartridges (and pay for them up-front), find retailers, and then sell. This means huge cash outlay and very significant commercial risk over and above the development cost, making for a much less risky business model. And as to the input: some of the accelerometer-powered racing games are significantly better to control than with any game pad.

The DS is and arguably will be for a while a formidable gaming platform (as the father of a 10-year-old girl I can certainly vouch for that) but the sheer number of games available on the AppStore is likely to create a space longer term that may well tilt the balance in favour of the latter: you've got a) the arguably best music player in the market, b) higher WiFi usability (the DS doesn't really allow you to surf the web), c) e-mail, maps, and all those nice little (and often useless) apps, d) much, much more choice of games at lower cost (anywhere from $0.99 to $9.99 as opposed to $30 for, say, Cooking Mama 2) and - to top it all of - e) the coolness factor of the sleek Apple form factor. Tough competitor, that.

For mobile games developers and new iPhone game entrants this constitutes and exciting development as it opens the revenue potential further up, and all that at a comparatively efficient and high-margin market place.

Finally: a new Palm

After bloody ages (and 425m Elevation dollars later) Palm came out with a bang yesterday at CES by unveiling the Pre and its new WebOS. Palm's shareholders will be chuffed as the stock surged in the hours afterwards. Now, what is it? And does it have legs? One of the first reports (even containing a minute-by-minute live-blog of the presentation) notes that

'its form factor is a blend of the HTC Touch and the iPhone. The software looks an awful, awful lot like that of the iPhone — multitouch, gestures and so on. Many of the apps also have a very strong likeness to the iPhone [...]."
That in itself is of course not a bad thing. And other reports confirm high hardware quality and nice UI. However... Aren't they a bit late? And where will the content come from? Palm used to have a faithful following on his Tungsten and Treo product lines but this is a while ago now and there have been some awesome devices in the interim, some of which - most notably the iPhone and the G1 as well as RIM's Blackberries and the higher-end Nokia devices - have amalgamated a great device with a great UI and commercial environment into a huge following. Apple AppStore, Android Market, N-Gage and Ovi, Blackberry Application Center, etc, are all there or there about. And Palm will be up against that. The fact that it has - at least initially - tied itself to Sprint only will not be much help there.

WebOS is said to be easy to develop for. Allegedly HTML, CSS and some other stuff known from the web would be enough to develop for it. But will anyone do it unless there is a device base large enough to make it a compelling commercial case (which even seems to hit platforms like Nokia's N-Gage; THQ has just apparently dropped its "Worms World Party" development for this).

It's nice to see they're back but I think that the jury is still out on the success of this.

Top US Handsets in Q3/2008

And it still goes on, it seems: Nielsen published its (digital) media top 10 lists for Q3/2008, and the once cool Motorola V3 still rules the United States - and by a HUGE margin. A whopping 9.3% of all phones in use are RAZR's, more than 7 points ahead of its sibling, the KRZR. Apple's iPhone follows on #4 with 1.5% share. And Nokia's call to arms with a view to the US market has as yet to materialize: its best handset is the 6101 series with a meagre 1.1% (compared to a reported global market share of the Finnish giants of close to 40%). Sony Ericsson and Samsung are both notably absent from the list.

Here's the top 10 table then:

1 Motorola RAZR V3 series (V3, V3c, V3m, V3i, V3i DG, V3) 9.3% 

2 Motorola MotoKRZR series (K1m, K1) 2.0% 

3 LG VX8300 series 1.6% 

4 Apple iPhone 1.5% 

5 LG VX8500 series (Chocolate, VX8500, VX8550) 1.2% 

5 RIM BlackBerry 8100 series (Pearl,8110, 8120, 8129) 1.2% 

7 Nokia 6101 series (6101, 6102, 6102i) 1.1% 

8 LG VX8350 1.0% 

9 Motorola V325 series (V325, V323, V325i, V323i) 0.9% 

9 Nokia 6010 series 0.9% 

Source: The Nielsen Company, Q3 2008 

Time for a lot of people to shake things up!