by Tom Kaneshige

Gaming Death Match: Apple iPhone vs. Sony PSP

Sep 30, 2009
Enterprise Applications

Experts, analysts and vendors continue to debate -- but teenagers have the best advice.

Everybody seems to have an opinion about the iPhone’s chances against popular portable game systems Sony PSP and Nintendo DS. Sure, we know the iPhone is already displacing markets for low-end standalone devices like GPS devices and digital cameras—but games?

Apple CEO Steve Jobs said late last year that the iPhone and iPod Touch “may emerge as really viable devices in the mobile games market.” His words were echoed by ngmoco co-founder Electronic Arts alum Neil Young earlier this year at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, as reported by AllThingsD.

“Don’t let the haters tell you [the iPhone] sucks compared to the DS or the PSP. It doesn’t. It’s good,” Young told attendees. Ngmoco is an iPhone app game developer and thus has skin in the game.

Most recently, a Bernstein Research reports claims that the iPhone will create pricing pressure for existing gaming platforms. Gaming customers may migrate to the iPhone. The report’s main ammunition is that gaming has been the killer App Store category, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of all App Store downloads.

Yet an equally powerful camp disagrees. Sony Computer Entertainment’s Ray Maguire told MCV that the iPhone, despite its growing installed base, “doesn’t have the production power that a PSP has … As a specific games machine, the PSP is always going to win out.”

Forrester analyst Charles Golvin told me that many of the iPhone games are “casual” ones and that people who really love games are going to continue to buy the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS. “It’s a better gaming experience,” he says.

Gartner analyst Van Baker agrees that standalone game devices have the best chance of staving off the iPhone onrush. “Many handheld gamers are young and not likely to bear the cost of voice and data plans associated with smartphones, regardless if they’re paying for it or their parents are,” he says. “As such, the impact will be less.”

When it comes to portable games, though, I listen to expert advice from my 16-year-old son (who owns an iPhone and Sony PSP,) and his buddies. They tell me the iPhone is a poor excuse for a gaming system, especially for shooter and adventure games.

For these kinds of games, they say, tactile buttons are a must. The screen is also larger on the Sony PSP than the iPhone. Even though the iPhone and Sony PSP both offer multi-player online play, no serious gamer would choose to compete on the iPhone.

But these are teenagers, after all. What do they know? I had to check it out for myself, and so I played Assassin’s Creed on the iPhone after playing it on the Xbox 360. Not a fair test, for sure, but the experience with the iPhone was still mind-numbing; and I quickly understood the frustration that comes with non-tactile buttons.

The game relies on your assassin character making coordinated jumps as well as quick reactions during battles. There’s no time to look down at the visual buttons of the iPhone to make sure you’re hitting the right ones. Without tactile buttons, you’re left making an educated guess.

Given the visual-only buttons, my stubby fingers and poor eye-hand coordination, the results were all too predictable: I made a horrible assassin, falling from rooftops, running in circles, and dying a thousand deaths.

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