The rumor that Apple has plans a $20 "premium" price tag for games apps in the iTunes App Store is gaining traction on the Web—some claim that Apple sources have said it's really going to happen. While this move will enable a "top tier" of applications, and will direct more money into the pockets of developers, it also hints at something bigger: The next iPhone will be a powerful portable gaming machine.
Sure there are lots of games already out there for the iPhone and iPod Touch—even big titles like the port of desktop classic Sim City—but as far as big players in the games-writing world are concerned, the cost of developing for the iPhone is difficult to recuperate using the existing app pricing structure. Hence the pressure to create a $20 price bracket.
And that's the key to the next-gen iPhone too. It all adds up if you list the clues.
First, Apple's shown a renewed interest in improving the graphics capabilities of its laptops—long considered a slight weak spot in the hardware design. The new batch of MacBooks incorporate new Nvidia portable graphics, giving some machines a total of two graphics chipsets. There's no reason to think they're not considering revving the graphics of the iPhone either, which is currently powerful enough to run Sim City, but can't cope with full-on 3D graphics gaming.
There's also Apple's reluctance to allow gaming add-ons for existing devices. There's a prototype d-pad controller popping up in the wild, but it'll be unlikely to garner official support from Apple. That could mean that Apple is being conservative and wants to keep control of the iPhone's uses, or that it's preserving gaming for the next-gen version.
While Sony improved the PSP last year into the PSP-3000, it was more of a revamp than an upgrade—nothing particularly improved its processing power, and there are no official plans to upgrade the machine into a "PSP2" anytime soon. Nintendo's DS had a similar cosmetic tweak into the DSi, which added a camera and a browser, but it hardly came close to being a "DS2" upgrade.
Meanwhile we know that Apple is working on iPhone version 3. It took just one year for the iPhone to transform into the more powerful iPhone 3G, and it's already half way through another year. There are suggestions in the recent firmware of an iPhone "2,1", that sounds like a big step up from the current "1,2" hardware. And recently it was revealed that Apple's research team was busy beavering away on significant navigation apps and location-based-services, presumably for a next-gen iPhone.
It would be remiss of Apple to not take advantage of the "upgrade gap" left by Sony and Nintendo, and introduce the iPhone 3.0 into the portable gaming market.
Finally, Apple has carefully worked to push the gaming PR of the iPhone, even so far as the "it's not a phone, it's a console experience" comment of John Geleynse, Apple's Director of Technology Evangelism, late last year. If he was referring to the iPhone 3G—not so much. But if he had the iPhone version 3 in mind, possibly, yes.
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