By Jeremy Kahn
The iPhone/iPod has revolutionized how we listen to music and watch videos. Over time this device added the ability to play games, achieving the success that the Apple Pippin couldn’t. At first Apple denied that their product was a gaming device, but this stance eventually changed. Nowadays it is more common to see kids walking around with an iPod than a handheld gaming system.
For many people, the choice hinges on the fact that they can only carry one hand held electronic at a time, thus they choose to go with the iPod as they believe it can provide better entertainment for any type of travel. Even more recently there has been a boom of Android tablets which offer similar features to Apple’s device but is more user friendly (in terms of what you can put on it).
Nielsen surveys have shown that very young kids want an iPod or iPad for a present instead of the major gaming handhelds. This new demand for iPods and Androids puts dedicated gaming handhelds at a disadvantage.
You can’t release a new system nowadays without a few extra features that make the device more than what it is. This brings up the question, is there still a place for dedicated gaming handhelds in today’s market?
One of the first things handhelds have going for them is their interface. Tablets lack physical buttons; those that do have them aren’t responsive enough or aren’t set up in a way that’s complementary to gaming. There are some ways to work around this problem like the iCade (an iPad holder that looks like an old arcade cabinet). All that is extra however, because the fact is that with most tablets gaming is an after thought. There is no universal physical interface built in.
Unfortunately, this breaks a lot of games that could otherwise be good. Playing a 3D open-world game on a phone, for example, is not the same as on a handheld. While graphics for tablets, phones and handhelds are about even, without proper controls it’s pointless to play them.
One thing that people seems to argue over is the length of a game. Some prefer games that provide a short burst of play while others want longer, in-depth games. These preferences are reflected in the tablet versus handheld argument. Most of the games found on tablets fall under the category of quick, easy-to-pick-up games. They provide short bursts of play that can be finished during short breaks.
On the other hand, handhelds often provide more in-depth games that require a longer involvement. To some this longer involvement is considered a deal breaker, equating longer, more complex games with consoles or PCs.
Just like how controls are usually an after thought when it comes to tablets the same can be applied to handhelds when examining some of their extra features. While having some sort of built in media device isn’t new to handhelds it is something that has been evolving over time. Take the Tiger Game.com for instance.
This system consisted of a monochrome touch screen, built in address book and calendar, an attachable modem for Internet access (good for checking email and surfing the web), and of course supported by a few major game developers. Yet overall it was a complete failure. The gameplay element was just not strong enough; it was nothing more than a PDA that happened to play some games.
This same argument can be applied to many devices in the market today. Companies focus too much on making their product do dozens of things that they wind up overlooking the basics. You make a gaming device; focus on making it play games. You have an mp3/video device; focus on perfecting the audio and video quality before anything else.
By focusing on features that aren’t normally associated with the main purpose of the device things get complicated and mistakes are made. This is why a lot of devices’ features wind up seeming like they were an after thought. As the old adage goes, keep it simple.