Mobile Revolution • Page 2

iPhone's success has changed the landscape forever.

However, the changes that Apple has made to the market will persist even if the iPhone's own dominance wanes. Aside from the touch-screen and the design of the device, both of which are being widely emulated already, the App Store and the iTunes Store are the two most dramatic changes to the mobile content landscape since phones first became capable of downloading media and applications.

What Apple has done, in a nutshell, is what mobile content providers have dreamed of in secret for almost a decade - the company has finally put network operators in what the content firms view as their rightful place. Operators have spent years trying to be directly involved in every content transaction that takes place over their network - positioning themselves as publishers and distributors, the gatekeepers to the mobile market.

With the muscle provided by hawking an exclusivity deal for the iPhone, Apple has completely rewritten those terms - and turned operators into little more than pipeline providers, similar to your broadband company. You can buy music, games and applications over the air for your iPhone, and your network provider has nothing to do with it - it just provides the data pipe which enables the transaction.

This was unthinkable a few years ago, but since Apple's arrival, it has become the basis for the new structure of the market. Nokia has been able to push through its ComesWithMusic handsets and infrastructure, which similarly bypass the network operator. Google's Android handsets, presently the realm of a somewhat geeky minority but widely tipped as an iPhone competitor in future, have a similar store for third-party applications. New versions of Windows Mobile devices will follow suit (and are widely expected to plug into the Zune Store for music and video as well).

The idea of the network operator as a content provider isn't dead, but it's on its last legs. Increasing numbers of operators are seeing themselves as providers of network infrastructure and leaving content provision to the handset manufacturers and the internet, and it's hard to see how any other model will be workable in future.

This is Apple's legacy, regardless of whether the iPhone continues to be successful - and the consequences are far-reaching. One of the most interesting outcomes is that it's no longer important to develop a game for every handset on the market. You can create an iPhone-only, or Android-only, or Windows Mobile-only title, and simply place it on the store for that device - perhaps thinking about porting it if proves to be a success. As a result, platforms will strive to be as developer-friendly as possible, since the availability of games and applications is likely to be a major selling point - already, top applications and games feature prominently in Apple's marketing for iPhone.

As for all those companies who have struggled manfully with the challenges of mobile gaming in the past five to ten years - well, there's still money to be made in that market. The iPhone's huge success is still dwarfed by the availability of other handsets; selling games on them may be harder and less rewarding, but it's still a market, and will continue to be so for some time. In the coming years, however, the model exemplified by the App Store is where the entire content business on mobile will end up - while the rest of the industry, intrigued by Apple's recent hires of games industry executives, will be wondering how long it will be before something like the App Store appears on a re-imagined AppleTV device.

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