Siliconera Speaks Up: Is The iPhone A Threat To The DS?

By Louise Yang . March 1, 2009 . 6:56am

Do you think the iPhone is giving the DS a run for its money? Is it still too early to call the iPhone a gaming platform, or has it already happened?


Jenni: I think that the iPhone can definitely be considered a gaming platform, but it’s nowhere near the equal of the DS. The Apple product isn’t even a threat to the upcoming DSi. The iPhone is just too different compared to the DS/DSi. Instead of hurting one another, the two handhelds likely compliment one another.

If anything, I’d think that the iPhone would be hurting PSP sales more than DS sales, since both handhelds have similar functions. Both devices play music, have internet browsers, internet radio, downloadable games, picture viewing capabilities and a wide screen. The PSP definitely pales, when you factor in that it needs peripherals for the camera and GPS functions and only has Skype functions.


Ishaan:The iPhone most certainly could give the DS a run for its money as far as digitally distributed content is concerned. DSiWare has yet to prove itself a competitor in the digital games space, and unless Nintendo starts to get a little more ambitious than Zelda-themed clocks; yeah, iTunes is most likely going to outclass a lot of software on DSiWare.

That said, the retail market is far from dead and the iPhone doesn’t have any buttons suited for games. That’s the end of the story as far as I’m concerned. Sure, a Phoenix Wright or a completely stylus-controlled game a la Phantom Hourglass or Ninja Gaiden could work, but I seriously doubt anyone would opt to create the majority of those exclusively for iPhone over DS given their target audiences. One could also argue that full-digital is the way to go for handhelds, but nothing stops Nintendo from simply allowing for that via a firmware upgrade if cartridge prices prove to be a problem in the future. Will iPhone do a few cool things that we’ll find ourselves wishing DS was capable of? Most certainly. Will it take the DS’s place as the leading videogame system? I doubt it. It’s not a dedicated games device.


Louise: What the iPhone and iPod touch lack in actual buttons, it makes up for in reach. I know my dad, who’s not a gamer at all, would be more likely to own an iPhone than a DS. He does like the occasional puzzle or brain game, so a puzzle game that’s easy to pick up and play for a few minutes like Trism on the iPhone would be perfect for him.

Like Ishaan said, the iPhone is far from being in competition with the DS and PSP where gamers are concerned. There’s just a lot more than the DS with it’s stylus AND buttons, or the PSP with its GPU and wide screen can do better than the iPhone. Let’s put it this way: if I were going on a 1 hour plane trip, I can deal with just having an iPhone as entertainment, but any longer and I’d have to pack my DS or PSP or end up stabbing my eyes out of boredom.


Ishaan: Ooh, that’s a great point. iPhone stands a very good chance in the super-casual market. But what you mentioned in your post brought to mind two other things:

  1. iPhone’s touch input is heat-sensitive, isn’t it? That means there’s definitely a disadvantage as far as precision is concerned because a stylus is a lot more precise than your fingers.
  2. I didn’t think about this until recently, but I really can’t believe we’ve been playing on portables with a single screen for so many years. I think the game that really made me reflect upon this was Contra 4, where they extended the size of the levels vertically, so you’d have enemies sniping at you from above. Order of Ecclesia is great in this regard as well. And of course, having your map and whatnot on a separate screen is really convenient in RPGs and the like.


Jenni: I agree with Louise, that the iPhone/iPod Touch will definitely win out in the casual markets.

I think the iPhone would be much more detrimental to the PSP than the DS. The DS has already established itself, has a wide and devoted fanbase and a unique niche filled by its own abilities.

The PSP, on the other hand, has been floundering for a while. Aside from Square Enix and Atlus, and occasionally Namco Bandai and NIS, it isn’t really receiving any love. Skype was kind of a bust, since the system can only use it near Wi-Fi hot spots. There’s still no GPS or camera peripheral in the states. The PlayStation Store’s offerings are hardly stellar. And, this may be just me, but I can’t see buying an extra, larger memory card to download the PlayStation Store games onto. I’ve been relying on the 1mb one that came with my Daxter bundle.


Spencer:I don’t really see the iPhone as a direct competitor to the Nintendo DS and PSP, both of which are designed to be gaming gadgets first. Like Louise, I see the iPhone as a platform that expands the audience to people who wouldn’t be interested in buying a portable console in the first place. Most iPhone games are short time killers too, sort of like Flash games. You can jump in and out of these kinds of games while waiting in a checkout line for five minutes. A meaty RPG can’t be enjoyed with quick burst play like that.

Our lifestyle will affect how people perceive the iPhone as a gaming platform too. Outside of metropolitan areas most people in the US drive to get from point A to point B which means long trips are planned in advance. If I know I’m going to travel far I’ll pack a portable. In Japan and densely populated spots in Asia life is different. Public transportation is much more common and it might not be worth it to lug around a handheld in your pocket for a short 15-20 minute subway ride. However, you’ll still carry your mobile phone which can double as a timekiller. Given a choice between only playing an iPhone for a half an hour drive or bringing a DS/PSP and leaving it in the car I think most people will pick their DS or PSP.


Louise: Spencer brings up an interesting point. I think as cities get more populated and public transportation becomes more widely used, people will want to find things to do while they’re traveling from one place to another. Sadly, it seems like playing a game on your iPhone is more accepted if you’re an adult than playing something on the DS or PSP. For the market of people who aren’t usually gamers, the iPhone is a way to get into casual games and maybe dip their toe into other portable games in the future.

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  • Kaoro

    Well, despite me being a Mac user and all-around Apple fan, I think the iPhone will definitely give the PSP and DS a run for their money. That’s not a bad thing – I think Nintendo needs some fierce competition to get them to actually make more powerful systems…

    The iPhone/iPod Touch has something that I would think is appealing to developers: no NDA. iPhone development is not some corporate secret as it is with the DS and PSP, where only large corporations can shell out the cash to develop software for the system. For the iPhone, you pay $99. You can freely discuss development with other devs.

    I think that the App store also allows risks to be taken on games that wouldn’t be feasible with the costs of producing and distributing physical media.

    More competition in the handheld market can only be a good thing for consumers.

    Ishaan: the iPhone/iPod touch screen is not heat-sensitive. It uses the electrical current in your fingers I believe. It also has multi-touch – it can track what 2 different fingers are doing on the screen at the same time. The DS can’t match that.

    • lostinblue

      I’m a mac user as well but… Not a chance, Apple doesn’t even know what they’re doing truth to be told, neither can the iPhone/iPod Touch be a viable physical SKU platform, it just has no way to compete in that area.

      And… incidentally, that area is were 99% of software is still purchased across all home platforms:


      Also, and regarding “cheap development” that won’t give a run to DS and PSP in the high end nor in potential public… how many people with iPhones/iPod Touch has games in them? I know various people and they actually tell me, “you’re the only iPod Touch guy I know who actually has games in it” (and the games suck, btw), not a DS competitor for big developers, for indie developers it’s atractive but even then only for minigame and almost tech demo fests, since it’s a platform meant to be played on the way to work and on short breaks, something DS and PSP already bailed out of.

      Besides you’re forgetting those $99 have a bit catch… that you have to have a macintosh, that surely adds to the cost and might I say… makes more expensive than a DS devkit and just a tad less expensive than a Wii devkit.

      And multitouch… multitouch is way too intensive on the CPU, seriously, we’re talking about serious frame dips at times on certain games due to it. the MacOS API is too heavy on the hardware, and doesn’t let you access directly to a lot of stuff… unlike any other console (which makes it quite improper even) you can’t even access the Framebuffer directly!

      read about that here:

      just look at the OS fluidity, it values more the fluidity of going in and out of apps than giving priority to the software that’s running. it’s fine for a minigame of sorts, but as for a full fledged game? not so much, let alone a game that pushes the system while the priority in it’s threading queue is the OS.

      DS doesn’t have to match “that”, not to mention the argument reminds me of those that said nintendo had to match X360 power with the Wii, and look who won. (plus, “matching” that would just make the price higher)

      I think the title of this news is too sensionalist too, the thing would be lucky if it was able to threaten the PSP, let alone the DS. (and no, not even a threat to the PSP, at most a threat to the PSN distribution part of PSP)

      • Kaoro

        I was looking forward rather than right at this moment. The current games available are all very casual, but the quality is subjective. You say they suck; I say some are incredibly fun time-wasters. I agree that right now the DS has (arguably) the best game library, but things change.

        This abysmal state of iPhone app sales you mention is not apparent to me. Sales stats such as:

        are painting a picture to the contrary.

        I think the iPod Touch/iPhone threatened the PSP the day Sony decided to market it as a multimedia device. Time will tell how the situation pans out but I think Apple definitely recognizes the role games play in their platform’s success.

        • lostinblue

          That’s not my my point.

          iPhone game library: there are some “fun little titles” in there, sure, but not full fledged games or what I look for in a handheld. As for things changing… I don’t see any chance of it changing all that much, for the simple reason everyone pointed… DS and PSP are proper game platforms, the iPhone isn’t, even if Apple says otherwise.

          Also, the “abysmal” online sales point was not directed at the iPhone (doesn’t even apply to DSiware or PSN PSP downloads), it was to say that the market for them, when next to physical SKU’s… is laughable. you read it right? 99% of the software sold for home platforms is physical, meaning it’s there Square-Enix, Namco, Konami, Electronic Arts and others make their buck… and that isn’t a viable option on the current iPhone… But it is, on both DS and PSP. which is another reason against iPhone as a leading gaming platform of sorts.

          It’s not a matter of painting a picture on the contrary, it’s just how it is. iPhone software sales are fine, but are nothing next to the income other platforms have. If anything, with iPhone being a expensive proprietary platform I can see other mobile phone manufacturers giving it a run for it’s money providing they get their act together with a cross platform strategy. Or even Nokia, nokia blows Apple out of the water in the low and mid range, and that is bound to create trouble for the iPhone before it troubles any console.

          PSP being threatened, I don’t think so, I think they screwed their console a little with their “jack of all trades master of none” trick (and repeated it with PS3) but other than that… it’s still better being a console with multimedia capabilities and failed UMD’s than being a jack of all trades that can incidentally play games; what I’m saying is… PSP multimedia capabilities are actually quite weak, as is it’s form factor because it is still primarily a console… the iPhone is the opposite; better for music and carrying in the pocket, sure… but worse for proper gaming anyway.

          Don’t get me wrong, I like my iPod Touch 2G, I have wireless access to the internet on it and I can take it out so I don’t have to take the macbook… it’s handy and all that… I’ll also jailbreak it for the emulators once they break the 2G version, in order to not having to carry a PSP or a DS just to play gba games (plus, it’s a lot less geekier to be carrying a ipod than a ds/psp in the train)… but calling it a proper gaming platform? I don’t, it is a workaround platform, playing games on it is a workaround. (and god that FPS I played on it utter sucked!). I bought it up more for the browser/wireless capabilities than gaming ones, that’s for sure.

    • You bring up a good point with the NDA on Nintendo systems. The fact that anyone can develop on the iPhone helps bring a wide array of games to the system even if a lot of them are just variations of each other.

      Another thing I thought of that might hinder the iPhone/iPod Touch is the pricing scheme. Because so many games and apps are free in the iTunes store, people may not want to buy a $4.99 game if they can find a free variation of it.

      An example of this is Fieldrunners, a tower defense game. I thought about purchasing this for $4.99 because it just looks like something I’d have fun with on the iPhone, but during my research, I found Tap Defense, which is also a tower defense game, but is free. I ended up with Tap Defense instead.

    • Ahh, I get it. Thanks for clearing that up. :)

    • Novey

      $99 is the student price, right? isn’t the actual apple development kit $199? or do they have a separate iphone/itune development price for $99?

      • Kaoro

        No, in fact you can do the development for free with an ADC account and run it on the included emulator, but you need to pay $99 to test it on an actual device and ultimately submit it to the app store. I always thought it was $99 for everyone but I could be wrong.

  • Yes and no… The DS has an advantage with the younger crowds and price , while the iPhone has an excellent infrastructure for software development and distribution. How many parents will buy a $200 handheld for their children? Plus, the DS has a set of games that are much deeper than anything on the iPhone. Maybe we’ll get the new Final Fantasy side story on the iPhone…

    Unlike the DS, the iPhone starts out as a phone/pda and not a portable gaming system. In the long run, I believe this will give Apple significant in roads to the casual market that Nintendo has been trying to woo. Similar to the Wii, the iPhone is fresh and exciting, however, the iPhone integrates far better with day to day life. While Wii Fit boards collect dust, people will be talking on their iPhones…

    Keep in mind that we are in a worldwide recession. Will Apple be able to communicate with consumers that they have quality software for cheaper price points or will the initial price of entry keep Nintendo in the lead?

  • Doctor

    A gaming system should be judged by its games. The DS has a massive library, including excellent games of every genre, and a continuous stream of solid games coming out every month. The iPhone is just starting out as a gaming system, so it’s a bit early to say, but it’s very unlikely that it will ever build a library that could compete with the DS’s.

    What the iPhone has going for it is that it’s very developer-friendly. Anyone who can make a game can get it out there to players. So we’ll probably see some pretty interesting stuff. But once again, the DS already has such a massive library that it’s arguably the best current-gen system right now.

    Now, if top American developers like Blizzard got into iPhone games, things could get interesting.

  • Flower

    (Maybe I shouldn’t be commenting because I hate everything Apple)

    But no, The iPhone isn’t a threat to the Nintendo DS (or the PSP) in my eyes. It’s all about the games! The iPhone doesn’t have Dragon Quest IX, 7th Dragon, Blood of Bahamut, Final Fantasy Agito XIII, Parasite Eve: The 3rd Birthday, Final Fantasy Dissidia, Avalon Code, Knights in the Nightmare, Disgea 2 port, The Dark Spire, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, Dragon Quest V and VI, Persona remake, Infinite Space, etc, etc. (yes, i’m going to buy them all)

    These two gaming handheld devices actual have games that I would want to buy and play. The Apple iPhone doesn’t have any of those games. (and they never will) So Apple will never get my money. An besides, I HATE CELL PHONES.

  • I had a feeling the comments would get pretty biased and opinionated. :( Anyways, this is a classic example of comparing apples to oranges. The iPhone cannot compete against a dedicated game platform in the traditional market. However, the real growth, arguably like what Nintendo is doing with the Wii, comes from new markets. While you can grow traditional markets with technological shifts (Final Fantasy VII, Super Mario 64), new markets require more of a fundamental design shift.

    I’ve heard the argument that iPhone’s software is less than desirable. In response to that, here’s a small list of quality software I’ve compiled: Rolando, Trism, Edge, Crystal Defenders, Knots, and Bloom. Again, you cannot compare these to Dragon Quest V, Trauma Center 2, or even Ace Attorney, remember that they are at a different price and are a different type of game.

  • squall3031

    Iphone is DS competitor? there;s a huge different in price. I don’t think Iphone has a chance to catch up to DS anyway -_-;’

  • I just don’t think the iPhone has what most gamers consider to be “real” games.

    Fun little timewasters, sure, and there’s nothing wrong with that kind of game that you can pick up and play easily. But there’s absolutely no way that those kinds of games can compete directly with the vast sea of quality, deep, engrossing games the DS offers. I don’t think the iPhone is quite right for 50 hour RPGs or most “traditional” kinds of games which need physical buttons in order for most gamers to feel comfortable playing them.

    The casual gaming market could very easily thrive on the iPhone, because if you already have one, why not download a couple of games to distract you if you forget to take your DS with you? And “non-gamers” could be drawn to the idea of gaming on their iPhones if they’re not the types to purchase a portable gaming system in the first place.

    But gamers won’t buy iPhones just to play those kinds of games, and non-gamers won’t be dissuaded from buying a DS if they already have an iPhone, since they probably wouldn’t do so in the first place. Furthermore, the iPhone does not really offer anything significant that the DS does not when it comes to gaming – the DS had a touchscreen long before the iPhone even existed, after all.

    Personally, I think they’re separate markets with separate demographics and have separate things to offer when it comes to portable gaming. So no, I don’t think the DS has anything to fear from the iPhone. With the DSi having the capability to download games the two will share one thing in common, but the kinds of games being offered will likely vary radically.

  • I think the casual games rivalry between iPhone and DS will be an interesting one to watch. While the open platform nature of iPhone means that the device will probably end up seeing a lot of low-priced quick-fix games, I doubt NIntendo is going to let someone walk away with their expanded audience after all the effort they’ve put into catering to them.

    I think the key to competing with the iPhone will be DSiWare games that make use of the camera and microphone. I understand that multi-touch can be a powerful feature; but really, you don’t NEED multi-touch if you’ve got buttons and a stylus (which is more precise than your fingertips).

    Then there’s the dual screens thing as well. I really think having two screens makes a lot of DS games more approachable because you don’t find yourself switching in and out of a hundred menus.

    It’s going to be fun to see how iPhone, DSi and PSP2 bring to the table. There’s been talk of a second analog stick on PSP2…

    • Kaoro

      Oh definitely, multi-touch isn’t a necessity with physical buttons. As long as developers include left-handed options I’m happy :). Only thing I wish the DS had was better visuals. The chunky 3D is such an eyesore to me!

      I think we all know the real solution to the iPhone vs DS question: Nintendo and Apple merging and releasing the Nintapple DSiPhone.

      • You know, I’ve sworn to hold off on buying a high end phone until Nintendo releases one. My phone must be a gaming device first and foremost. :P

  • daizyujin

    I have a question for anybody who has an iPhone. When I went to swap out my phone at Verizon for a new one, I had over $60 in games downloaded. I was informed at that time that I just lost them all since they would not transfer them over. Of course I told the guy to kiss my ass and walked out the door. That is another story.

    Considering a large amount of people swap phones every other year, this is a rather rediculous restriction. I never really used my phone for all that much gaming and I learned a lesson, don’t buy downloadable software unless there is a contingency plan for if it dies. So my question is, are downloads on an iPhone tied to an account where they can be moved to another device if the one you originally purchased the software on is replaced or upgraded?

  • daizyujin

    Perhaps I am just rather weird but I don’t see any comparison. I always have seen a cellphone as a device for calling, and that is pretty much it. Games have always been a secondary feature. Every one I have every bought has given me the largest case of post purchase dissonance I have ever felt. I have messed with an iPhone and while they are for sure an improvement over other cell games I have played, they still feel extremely stripped down and in at least the case of a lot of major publishers games like Sega and NamcoBandai, very expensive for what they are. The indy aps are much better deals from what I have seen. Sure they technically are better, but they still don’t solve the one problem of the cellphone game, shit controls. Playing Pac-Man on an iPhone is as crappy as trying to play Double Dragon on my old VX6100.

    At the same time when you do get a system that can do games well, the increased size to house proper controls makes them unsuited to be carried in a pocket. It seems like a no win situation. If you have the girth for proper control, the system is too large to be portable and if it is small enough, the controls are crap.

    I guess the biggest question is, yes you can make a cellphone that has a PS2 in it, but in the end do you really need to? Does every device have to do EVERYTHING.

    My current phone is a JUKE. It is too tiny to play games on but it serves the one main function I bought it for, to use as a phone and it is as portable as you can get.

  • I remember a few years ago in college I downloaded the first Ys game onto my clunky ol’ cellphone. I think it was a Motorola. Irrelevant, right? Not really. Both that phone and the iPhone are just that: phones. Other capabilities aside, you buy them as a phone, as it would be kind of weird to purchase an iPhone from, presumably, the Apple store and never go activate it with a phone service.

    Games on phones are nothing new. Hell, there have even been a small number of visual-novel style games on phones. Surviving High School, anyone? Sure, not Japanese, but the genres have all been there. I just named two. My point is, why are we singling out the iPhone for doing something that’s been available for a long time? I’m not really into snarling and growling at the “trendy Apple folk” or whatever, but this isn’t exactly something worth debating.

    It hasn’t damaged legitimate gaming platform sales in the past. It won’t in the future. Not just iPhones, but phone-games in general. While some will argue this so-called “casual market”, how many games will such people buy? Will they search for a specific game or download “whatever’s free”? Will they follow upcoming releases? I don’t think so. They’ll get a small cluster of free games and use them to waste time, when time is there to waste.

    • daizyujin

      I couldn’t have said it better. So I won’t even try. I think this is the point I was trying to make myself.

      BTW, I think that is the same version of Ys I bought as well on my old LG VX6100. It was only the first one and book two was never released. It actually was decent but since Ys doesn’t need an attack button, that is probably why it worked.

  • Happy Gamer

    if it had sliding out D-pad and 4 buttons i’d say yes but for me, no lol. touch screen alone doesn’t make things fun for me. Ironically, my DS prooved this for me.

    playing DQ V currently :)

  • Justin Bailey

    Good grief… All these iPhone groupies seem to forget that the DS (and DSi now) is a specialized piece of hardware built specifically for the purpose of playing games. Not to mention that no sane person would want to be attached to a service plan just so they could play video games (save of course for Xbox live Gold subscribers/MMO players). A better target would be the iPod touch as people are more likely to have one of those purely for entertainment.

  • iPhone can be a good gaming platform but its still too early to call it a mobile gaming engine. I don’t think its even made for that .. typically sets up the communication thing while gaming is little part of that. And considering mobile prices and that too of an iphone, I guess a gaming platform will be better deal for a typical gamer.

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