Monday, August 2, 2010

Definitions: Apps

Most readers probably don’t need to be told that “Apps” is short for “applications,” and is most closely associated with software running on Apple’s smartphones and similar portable devices.

Yes, people talk about “Apps” for Android and other mobile platforms, but as far as this site is concerned, if you can’t buy it on iTunes, it isn't an App: it’s an unfortunate byproduct of a poor consumer choice.

I am a hardcore PC loyalist, but I no longer fear the Fruit. I made the mistake of doubting the power of Apple in the early days of the iPod. I would not become a consumer of Apples. I would be different, and buy a portable MP3 player made by … Rio.

Within a year of that purchase, the unit was lying in pieces on my work table, as I tried to dissect its manifest failings and get it functional again. I finally gave up, bought the first of several iPods, and have been happy ever since.

Apple owns this market. Period. Everything else (Android, Windows Phone, etc) is the electronic equivalent of a triceratops glancing into the sky to see the comet streaking to earth. They are doomed: they just don’t realize it yet.

Apps As a New Genre
It took Apple to finally make mobile gaming into a legitimate genre. For years, my Editor-in-Chief at Games Magazine had urged me to cover mobile games, but I resisted. They were still in a formative period, and remained scaled down versions of full-size games. They hadn’t made a convincing claim to becoming a unique format, until Apple created the OS, platform, tools, and marketplace that would unleash the creative power of thousands of developers, thus creating something new.

To become its own genre, something must have a unique language, a core vocabulary that it shares with every other item in that genre. There are distinct qualities to PC, Wii, DS, and Xbox/PS games, primarily based upon control, ergonomics, and aesthetics. Apple mobile software can make a similar claim, due to its unique blend of portability, size, multi-touch controls, and a 3-axis accelerometer (enhanced by a gyroscopic sensor for the iPhone 4).

Developers are using these tools to create remarkable portable gaming experiences. Some of these games are familiar things that have been given a new means of interaction, such as Solitaire, Chess, Scrabble, or Catan. But some of them are fresh ideas entirely, such as Doodle Jump or Jelly Car.

Certain games are Wii games and can only ever effectively be Wii games. And certain games are Apps, and can only ever effectively be Apps.

This is the reason I finally started covering Apps for my magazines, and why for the first time Games Magazine is awarding an “App of the Year” in the annual Games 100 awards issue.


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