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Mobile Revolution

iPhone's success has changed the landscape forever.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz' widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial is a weekly dissection of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

Nobody denies that the iPhone has had a major impact on the world of mobile gaming, but opinions differ as to what, exactly, that impact has been. Apple's sudden (albeit widely predicted) emergence as a platform holder of note has certainly changed the landscape - but speaking to people across the industry, there's little consensus on where the company, and the market as a whole, goes from here.

Those who have been labouring away in the mobile gaming market for years would be forgiven for feeling a little bitter at all the attention Apple is garnering. Mobile game development and publishing has been a thankless task since its inception, and the few companies who have managed to eke success out of this market have done so by overcoming extremely tough challenges. They have built systems to support literally hundreds of handset and software combinations, worked through a complex and unfriendly landscape of distributors and network operators and battled to convince consumers that their mobile phones were valid devices to play games on.

Then, suddenly, Apple enters the market - and within a mere 12 months, the iPhone has an attach rate for game sales that's an order of magnitude higher than the rest of the mobile phone market. It still doesn't account for a majority of mobile game sales, but it's unquestionably the most successful device on the market in that regard - and it's just about the only device that the rest of the industry wants to talk about.

There's a good reason for that, and it's not just the shine and glow of Apple's product design and marketing. The firm's muscle has allowed it to tear apart the barriers to entry which have previously frustrated mobile application creators. iPhone developers have a single hardware platform (with minor variations, admittedly) to develop for - and moreover, the App Store cuts straight through the question of network operators or distributors. It's just another data service, and the network operator gets no say in what products are featured and no cut of the revenues.

A new iPhone range is expected to arrive next month, boasting larger memory capacity, a faster processor and a handful of new features - most likely an upgraded camera (with video functionality, at last) and better GPS navigation, including a built-in compass, which is useful for providing turn-by-turn navigation. However, as the phone's third iteration approaches, questions are being asked about what happens now to the mobile content industry - a market which has been turned on its head by Apple's entry.

Apple, and some within the industry, see the company as being a long-term dominator of the high end of the market. While RIM's Blackberry range continues to hold relatively firm as the choice of large enterprise, and Palm's new Pre handset is generating some buzz as a likely iPhone competitor, right now Apple doesn't seem to face any serious challenge for the consumer high-end market - which is, of course, exactly the market game companies want to tap.

This won't last. Whether Apple can build the iPhone up into a stranglehold position similar to the one it enjoys on the music player market with the iPod is extremely questionable. That being said, few would have believed ten years ago that Apple was going to thoroughly trounce electronics giants like Sony in the portable music space - so there's certainly no guarantee that companies like Nokia or Sony Ericsson will be able to effectively compete with Apple. Given the line-up of rivals, however - which also includes Palm, RIM, Motorola, HTC and, indirectly, Microsoft - it seems unlikely that Apple will be unchallenged for long.