There aren’t many people in the world who can say they have a keen perspective on that thin edge of the wedge where Apple and gaming meet, but Peter Cohen would be one of those people. Best known for his Game Room column in Macworld magazine (or his long-standing reputation for shaving an Apple logo on the back of his head), Cohen has a long history and a sterling profile as the go-to guy for anything to do with games and the Mac. With the advent of the new iPhone, however, Cohen’s perspective on what games mean to Apple has nudged open just a little bit wider: Is there room for productivity-killing on the “It” device of the year? It’s a question that’s going to be asked a lot more this year, and Cohen is going to have to be a guy with the answers.
I sat down with my old friend and asked him a few things about the iPhone that mobile gamers are gonna want to know…
QuicklyBored: The iPhone, for all its style and innovation, brings up both promise and concerns about the future of mobile gaming. What would you say are the relevant questions where gaming on the iPhone is concerned?
Peter: Whether it’ll play games at all. As Apple showed it last week and based on the info on the Web site today, there’s no indication that it does support games. Having said that, I hope it does.
QuicklyBored: It seems sort of obvious that it would, what with the OS X-based system and the high-quality screen, etc. etc.
Peter: It seems obvious, but Apple’s never been about what’s obvious. Presuming, though, that the iPhone works with games, my question is whether the platform will be open to any sort of third-party development.
QuicklyBored: It does seem like that’s the key question to developers of all sorts and, at present, the doors seem to be open to companies like Namco and Electronic Arts, but not for smaller, lesser-known developers. Why would Apple make a decision like this?
Peter: Taking a look at the current model, Apple has very, very tight control over the quality of products released for the iPod. Publishing an SDK and opening the platform to third party development without controlling who’s doing what obviously doesn’t give Apple the kind of quality control it has demonstrated that it wants.
QuicklyBored: Does that devalue the iPhone?
Peter: I don’t think so. Anyone who’s suffered hours trying to get lousy shareware to work on their Palm or Windows Mobile-based smartphone would probably like some better QC.
QuicklyBored: What do you think about games on the iPhone if they were to happen? Would you play games on this thing?
Peter: I’m sure I’d dabble. I’ve bought all the games for the iPod. But I’m not really the target market for mobile games. I don’t commute because I work from home — when I do want to game, I’m more likely to just fire up World of Warcraft on a nearby Mac. I might be interested if Blizzard brings WoW to the iPhone, though. But I’m probably getting ahead of myself.
QuicklyBored: When the iPhone was shown for the first time, everyone sort of flipped out and decided that they’d seen the second coming, a la Brent Sienna. As a few days went by and people began to really reflect on what the closed-system and the lack of tactile feedback for input might mean, public opinion kinda swung the other way. Where do you think history will see the pendulum land on this one?
Peter: I think the iPhone will be a hit. I don’t expect there will be just one iPhone, either — I think Apple will expand the product line out just as it’s done with the iPod — a different iPhone for each budget and segment of the mobile market. I also fully expect we’ll see a pretty porous border between the iPhone and the Mac with regards to features and capabilities.
(Peter Cohen and QuicklyBored Editor in Chief Corey Tamas enjoying a bonding moment at MacWorld Expo, 2005)
QuicklyBored: What kinds of features and capabilities?
Peter: it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a Mac with multi-touch support at some point down the road.
QuicklyBored: One thought that crossed my mind is that games won’t be easily portable to the iPhone because of the interface; where the iPod had the wheel and some buttons which could at least approximate some of the classic game controllers, the iPhone is all touch. Is this going to be a barrier to bringing the classics to iPhones?
Peter: The thing to remember here is that just because the iPhone is based on Mac OS X, that doesn’t mean it’s running the same Mac OS X as your MacBook Pro. It’s a very different hardware platform, with a different processor, different memory and storage footprint and different interface. I’m sure a lot of Mac OS X technology is portable to the iPhone, but yeah, I expect that anyone developing games for the iPhone probably has a long row to hoe.
QuicklyBored: Any ideas for what would be a good wish list for the iPhone, rev #2?
Peter: more storage capacity, for sure, but without having a full feature list for the 1.0 product, I’m getting ahead of myself trying to figure out how to improve it. It’s gonna be a long wait til June.
QuicklyBored: iPhone and gaming. Give me your final thoughts.
Peter: final thoughts: The iPhone looks cool. I want one.