Despite Gaming Success, Apple Not Ready To Call iPhone A Game Platform

Despite the iPhone and iPod Touch's gaming successes Apple seems reluctant to embrace the idea of their devices as gaming platforms, instead focusing on the broader world of entertainment.

"We've seen a tremendous connection between gaming and iPod Touch customers," said Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of Hardware Product Marketing. "We have been trying to highlight this as a great gaming device, but it's also a great music and video device.

"That is what the product is, it's an amazing entertainment product."

Joswiak added that Apple has been surprised at the success of gaming on the platform.

"We've almost become detached from what we want to do. This is happening," he said about gaming on the device. "It just is. Certainly we've embraced that, it's important to our customers."

I asked Joswiak, then, if there were plans to directly market the iPod Touch to gamer. He said some of the ads running for the touch do that "to some extent", but implied that Apple is more interesting in continuing to point out all of the Touch's uses, identifying it as an iPod that also "allows you to play video and play games."

Apple isn't the only platform producer with an identity crisis.

Microsoft recently told us that the best way to describe the increasingly media-centric Xbox 360 was as "the center of home entertainment," but didn't like the idea of no longer calling the 360 a video game console.

The PSPgo will play music, videos, allow you to view pictures, surf the internet and play games, but Sony calls it a video game console. And Sony pushed the Playstation 3 as a blu-ray player in a way that Apple still won't push the Touch and iPhone as a gaming platform.

While music and videos have front page real estate on the Home screen of both devices, games are still just another app. You can, Joswiak points out, drop down into categories created just for games in the App Store, but much of what drives Apple and it's design decisions still comes from a view of Apps and not games.

Take for instance their rating system, one implemented with firmware 3.0. Joswiak says one of many reasons that they decided to use their own rating system was because it had to work for both games and other applications.

"We have a set of Apps that go far beyond games," he said. "We needed a rating system that would really work across a couple dozen categories."

So Apple came up with a questionnaire that developers fill out. An algorithm of sorts is then used to set the rating.

Joswiak declined to break down how just how much gaming is done on the iPod Touch and iPhone, but said there are more than 10,000 games on the device and that they have a a deep understanding of the market and what their customers want.

It didn't surprise Joswiak to hear that three grade schoolers in my neighborhood all have iPod Touches and use them almost completely for gaming.

"That' is not unusual," he said. "We have a growing community of younger people buying iPod Touches, we call it the funnest iPod ever."

As for the future of gaming on Apple platforms, Joswiak points out that the new iPhone 3GS has the ability to process games much faster and include much nicer graphics. It also includes some new functions, like a built in compass, that developers can tap into when designing games.

He said that while the new iPhone has different support for graphics, it's his belief that games that take advantage of that will still work on the original iPhone 3G.

"Developers would fork their code for legacy products," he said.

While Joswiak doesn't call the Touch a purely gaming platform, he does say that the device and the App Store in particular is having a significant impact on gaming by lowering the barrier for entry into the industry.

"This is a fairly major opportunity for developers," he said. "It levels the field in a way that allows the small guy to compete

"It's clear that the App Store sent shock waves across the industry when we brought it out last year. We've seen competitors all over the world trying to respond to it."