Handheld gaming: the plot thickens

Until recently, the two major players in the handheld gaming wars have been Nintendo and PlayStation. The N has a strong history when it comes to handhelds, going back to the bestselling handheld gaming device of all time, the GameBoy. Sony has had significant success with the PlayStation Portable, an overall more powerful machine than any handheld device before it.

In the last few years, the race has heated up, as Nintendo has upgraded its wildly popular Nintendo DS in increments (DS Lite, DSi, and the forthcoming DSi XL), while Sony recently released the PSP Go, a new version of the PSP meant to do away with the unpopular UMD media format in favor of downloadable content. And then there’s Apple, which scored an unexpected and unforeseen slam dunk with the iPhone/iPod Touch, a convergence appliance that turned out to be an incredibly fun and versatile gaming platform. (To date, there are nearly 1,000 gaming apps available to download from iTunes.)

But now, things are about to get really interesting.

First up, Nintendo is hard at work on the successor to the DS, and thanks to one crafty journalist who gleaned everything he could about the DS2 from game developers at the recent Game Developer’s Conference, it looks like the next-gen DS is going to feature two higher-res screens that unfold with barely any seam in between, so that the two can be used separately, or as one big screen. This year’s E3 conference is speculated to be the DS2’s official unveiling, where Nintendo will boast that its new handheld has the same horsepower as the GameCube.

Apple is about to change the game again with the release of the iPad. Okay, so that might be a bit of hyperbole — I can already hear the critics crying foul, dubbing the iPad an oversized iPod Touch. It’s not an entirely unfair description, but consider this: the iPhone/iTouch is comparable in

size to the DS and PSP, with a screen size of 3.5″ and a resolution of 480×320 pixels. The iPad dwarfs this with a 9.7″ screen, displaying at 1024×768 resolution. Does size matter? I think it will when Apple has what is by far the biggest self-contained handheld gaming device on the market. Plus, of all of the new gaming devices, the iPad will be first out of the gate.

As for Sony, rumors have been circulating for years — with very little solid evidence — that a next-gen PSP is in the works, complete with a high-def touchscreen. Sony is playing its cards close to the vest on this topic, though.

But wait, there’s a newcomer to consider. Microsoft is getting ready to join the mobile gaming world thanks to the impending release of its new Windows Phone 7 mobile OS, which can work directly with an Xbox Live user’s profile. Full Xbox Live games will be playable on WinPhone7, with unlockable Achievements, user avatars, and more, all of which behave much as they do on the game console.

The war over mobile gaming is raging, and it’s about to get more interesting than ever. Where do your loyalties lie?

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Robin Parrish

Unathletic, uncoordinated tall man with endless creativity stampeding through his overactive brain. Comes with beard, wife, and two miniature humans. Novelist. General blogger and main Gaming Geek for ForeverGeek. Lead Blogger, Apple Gazette.

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