|An Apple iPhone 5 phone is displayed in the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in New York, Sept. 21, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
The iPhone is a multi-purpose, multi-talented device. It does email and Web surfing. It does photography and videography. It can organize your calendar, help you learn another language and give you directions to the nearest Tim Hortons.
But take a look at the most popular applications available for Apple's family of iOS devices. Out of the top 20 most downloaded apps on the iTunes Store, 13 are games. For all the versatility the iPhone offers, people still just want to have fun. Lots and lots of people.
With the release this week of the iPhone 5, the gap between smartphones and dedicated mobile game machines (the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS, f'rinstance) has become narrower. Will gaming on the go be shaken up with the arrival of Apple's most powerful iPhone yet?
Yes and no. Here are two things gamers will love about Apple's latest wunderphone, and two things that might have them hitting pause.
Bigger screen: The iPhone 5's new 4-inch, 1,136 x 640 resolution screen means more real estate on which to play games, but it also means iPhone game developers will have to update their current titles to take advantage of the larger screen. Many already have (the makers of Minecraft Pocket Edition had their iPhone 5 update rolled out a week before the device was even available), and most other major game developers will issue their game updates shortly. Meantime, any current iPhone games played on the iPhone 5 will have black letterbox-style bars at each end of the screen.
Faster brain: The new A6 processor in the iPhone 5 will, according to Apple, offer double the performance of the A5 chip found in the iPhone 4S. This could lead to more complex and graphically intensive games that rival what's available on handheld gaming devices, but developers won't immediately make games that can only run on the iPhone 5 hardware and thus shut out the tens of millions of other iPhone owners. For the time being we'll see current games such as Infinity Blade II load faster and run a little more smoothly on the iPhone 5, and before long developers will tweak their games to take advantage of some of the added processing power available on the new device. It will be a while before games that require the iPhone 5 start to appear. And then things will get really interesting.
No buttons: While there are a handful of game controller accessories available for iOS devices, for the most part games are designed to be played simply with the touchscreen. Smart game makers develop their titles with this in mind (and the iPhone 5 boasts improved touch sensitivity on its new, thinner screen), while others try to force gamers to use onscreen virtual joysticks and buttons that never feel quite right and detract from the experience. For true, deep, tactile gaming on the go, you're still looking at Sony or Nintendo.
Lotsa dough: For the price of the entry level 16 GB iPhone 5 with no cellphone carrier contract ($699), you could buy both the new PlayStation Vita with 3G wireless data ($299) and the new Nintendo 3DS XL ($199), and still have $200 left over to spend on games, beer and Cheezies. Of course it's an apples and oranges comparison, no pun intended, as the iPhone 5 has a ton of different uses beyond gaming. The redesigned iPod Touch, which will be available in October beginning at $299, makes more sense for those looking for a standalone iOS gaming gizmo, and will sport the same larger screen (but not the same new processor) as the iPhone 5.