iTrojan

iPhone is set to transform the handheld gaming market, but not just as a platform in itself. It’s al

Disregarding Snake, gaming on the mobile phone has never quite managed to attain any real ubiquity.

There have been two main problems. First, the sheer variation in handsets available on the market at any given time makes it hugely expensive and time consuming for any publisher/ developer to create their game for enough models to be financially viable. Second, it’s been very difficult for publishers to get their content onto the devices. Bandwidth has been very limited and the install process less than streamlined, causing many users to quit even after deciding to make a purchase. (Snake of course, was successful because it was already on the phone when you bought it…)

Whilst as a device the mobile phone has saturated our live, outside of the core enthusiast base, mobile phones have never really been true lifestyle objects of desire. That was of course, until a Cupertino company decided to get involved and radically intervene in the market.

A few weeks ago you might have noticed the media hysteria around the new mobile phone by Apple. Apple’s release of the new iPhone 3G was an embarrassingly botched affair - marred by critical system failures and inadequate stock. Of the faithful individuals queuing outside stores, few who wanted one got one - and those who did had problems activating them as servers crashed.

It’s an extraordinary testament to the brand loyalty they have managed to create that even following an embarrassing catastrophe such as this, goodwill can be restored so quickly. Within 24 hours all had been forgiven and the nerdsphere was back to doe-eyed worship of Steve Jobs and all he touches.

But whilst an irresistibly device, the biggest leap in iPhone 3G isn’t the built-in GPS or the faster connectivity, but the app-store. Finally, Apple are allowing third-party developers to create applications for the device (and the iPod touch - essentially the iPhone without the phone) and in doing so elevating it from being just a phone, to a mobile computing platform.

The App-store is based within iTunes, and by exploiting an already hugely established install-base users Apple has done what it does best - humanised software.

By removing the clumsy download and install problems that have blighted the mobile games market for years and replacing them with the slick, seamless and, most important, familiar iTunes conduit - mobile gaming has suddenly become accessible.

At the E3 show in LA last week, the major publishers all came out in strong support of the platform, with key games being announced by many. It’s clear that it has the kinds of titles coming to it which will ensure its appeal amongst more discerning players - this will be about more than just Snake and Tetris clones.

But how is it to use? Well, the built-in accelerometer is a joy, albeit one that takes a little getting used to. Tilting the device from side to side is a surprisingly easy interface and it’s deserved that SEGA’s Super Monkey Ball should have been at the top of the download charts since launch.

It’s only when playing titles that demand touch control that the real shortcomings of the device become startlingly clear. Even with my delicate, artiste's hands it’s a frustrating experience on occasion to touch and drag over the screen with any real accuracy. It becomes very clear, very quickly why handheld pc’s usually come with a stylus.

Perhaps the real trojan horse of the new iPhone though isn’t its ability to run games itself, but the potential it has as a controller for another system. One of the other most downloaded applications at launch was ‘remote’, a small and free-of-charge app which enables the user to control another machine's iTunes library from your iPhone.

In a moments download, the potential of the device as not just a platform in itself, but as a peripheral is revealed. Anyone with a basic WiFi network can control music around the house from a single handheld device. The AppleTV, their initial mis-fire entry into the media hub market is suddenly given new possibilities as a gaming platform when coupled with the iPhone as a remote. This is surely the real potential here.

iPhone is set to transform the handheld gaming market, but not just as a platform in itself. It’s also the sexiest controller you ever had.

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.