Mobile gaming and where it will leave dedicated gaming handhelds

By on June 20, 2011
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We are already seeing the convergence.

Let’s be honest, before the iPhone came along in 2007, the idea of gaming on mobile phones was relegated to Tetris or Snake, or something equally menial. Nothing could come close to the actual handheld gaming experience of the NDS or the PSP. Nokia tried it with their N-Gage platform and failed miserably. Microsoft also tried it out with their Xbox Live service on Windows phones, but that didn’t pan out either.

Do not want.

Now with the iPhones and Android smartphones providing us Infinity Blades and Angry Birds all over the place, making millions of dollars in revenue from an amazingly low cost of development, the handheld gaming scene is changing.

Firstly I’d just like to mention the fact that no handheld system out in the market right now has the ability to make phone calls (except PSP via Skype) so they’re already at a huge disadvantage. Secondly, none of these systems provide an internet browsing experience anywhere close to what smartphones nowadays are capable of. I haven’t seen PS Vita in action, so I can’t say anything over there; but on the 3DS it is a painful process indeed.

Do not want either.

Let’s not even get into the whole Apps business because they expand the usability of your smartphone substantially, compared to handheld gaming devices whose functionality will only ever increase if their manufactures add something in the next system update. One can make the argument about hacked/jailbroken handheld systems; the PSP certainly is a prime example of expanded functionality outside of Sony’s jurisdiction. Even then, there’s hardly anything a hacked NDS/PSP can do that a regular (or eve jailbroken/rooted) iPhone or Android device can’t.

So in all manners of functionality, today’s mobile phones have current handhelds (and seemingly the PS Vita) beat. Even for downloading movies, TV shows and music, you won’t find a store as comprehensive as iTunes or any of the other Android compatible services for the 3DS or PS Vita.

The trump card that handhelds have over smartphones, then, is developer support. You most certainly won’t see the Mario or Uncharted or any other Nintendo and Sony system selling exclusives on smartphones. At least not in this generation of handhelds. Outside of that though, it’s fair game. When you hear about titles like Infinity Blade raking in over $10 million from sales or Angry Birds having been downloaded over 250 million times, every major and indie developer will start migrating towards the bigger and more lucrative market.

Do want!

Hardware wise the 3DS, and especially the PS Vita have any existing smartphone completely outmuscled. The PS Vita’s quad-core A9 and Power VR MP4+ chip is literally double what the iPad 2 is currently capable of. However, this dual-cored ARM A9 CPU will carry over to the iPhone 5, as are dual-cored CPUs coming onto Android smartphones (like the Galaxy S II). Surely by next year the hardware would be on par with what the PS Vita is capable of, and by 2013 you’re talking about iPhone 6(?) and Android (whatever) being more powerful than any handheld on the planet, let alone PS Vita and the already outdated 3DS.

Basically in two years’ time, current handheld consoles will be obsolete compared to smartphones, and we’ll be seeing the exact same scenario of ‘consoles vs PCs’ that has been going on for so many generations. Except this time, the superior hardware isn’t the one suffering from lack of developer support, because at the end of the day, productions costs will be cheaper on smartphones (or maybe not), and more importantly, the reach to hundreds of millions of people worldwide (even billions!) is too much for developers to ignore.

Game over man! GAME OVER!


From auditing to editing, I now test and analyze the latest gadgets and games instead of the latest financial statements. Both jobs are equally intense and rewarding. When I'm not burning up hardware in the name of science, you'll find me nuking in DOTA 2 or engineering in TF2.

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