One year ago, the App Store launched, quickly transforming the iPhone and iPod touch from media players and limited PDAs into portable game devices and miniature computers. Thanks in part to the wealth of available software, and additionally to Apple price and hardware tweaks, these devices have enjoyed tremendous success—so much so that Click Wheel iPods have faded into the background, and with them, a now minor part of the iTunes Store: the “iPod Games” section, also known as the “iPod Click Wheel Games” section.
Unlike the App Store, which receives dozens of updates every day, the iPod Games collection hasn’t seen a new release since February 3 of this year, which means that iPod nano and iPod classic owners haven’t had a new game to play in more than five months. Yet it’s difficult to say whether this is a good or a bad turn of events. Apple rigidly controlled the iPod Games section, aggressively overseeing game development and setting a fixed $5 price tag for every third-party title. Few developers were allowed to participate, very few of the releases were A-caliber titles—Peggle was a very notable exception—and some of the games were surprisingly poor. Before the flow of new titles ceased, the iPod Games collection had tapered off significantly, with the last release—Cake Mania 3—assembled so unimpressively that we didn’t even want to waste our time reviewing it. Prior to that, we’d reviewed every game released for Click Wheel iPods.
Yet there is clearly demand for more, better, and less expensive games for smaller-screened iPods, as not everyone wants to carry a 3.5” touchscreen device or spend the money to buy it in the first place. That, and the App Store’s success with variable and free pricing for games, has led to obviously upset iPod Click Wheel user reviews such as this one:
“I think it is unfair that there is a ton of free games for the iTouch but none for the regular iPods. Can you make at least one that is free??”
What will Apple do for Click Wheel iPod owners, particularly iPod nano users? Will it push them to accept bigger-screened, bigger-bodied iPod touches if they want games, or develop a smaller alternative? Last year, rumors of an “iPhone nano” and “touchscreen iPod nano” strongly suggested that a smaller-screened device was in the works as a counterpart to the full-sized iPhone and iPod touch, however, the increasing popularity of the App Store and iPhone OS apparently scuttled those plans. So rather than release a smaller iPhone with app incompatibilities, Apple instead opted to offer the full-sized iPhone 3G as a lower priced way to run the same software. But does that preclude a smaller iPod touch? It appears that the same philosophy will prevail through late 2009: there won’t be one. Instead, reliable rumors suggest that the iPod nano will retain its Click Wheel and gain a camera, while the iPod touch will stay about the same size while adding a camera and making other internal improvements. In other words, the Click Wheel is here to stay.
And that means the small, dusty collection of Click Wheel iPod Games will continue to have a place in the iTunes Store, too, but won’t be much of a draw to these devices. We’d like to hear from readers: should Apple continue to maintain the iPod Click Wheel Games section, and if so, what sorts of games should it be focusing on releasing going forward? Or should it continue to ignore the Click Wheel iPods as gaming devices, focusing all of its energy on the App Store? We look forward to reading your comments below.