If you care about gaming at all, it's impossible to ignore Apple.
The consumer electronics powerhouse is expected to announce a new iPhone today, and could also announce a long-rumored wearable device. Remember when having all your data in your pocket was enough? Now it's time to put it on your wrist, accessible at all times. These are phones and weird watches though, right? How does this impact the world of gaming?
The numbers point the way
Applying sales numbers to an industry debate quickly becomes an issue of asking if you'd prefer apples or oranges, but in this case it's worth doing, just to prove the size and weight of Apple's penetration into the pockets of the world. If you look at the life-to-date sales numbers of all models of the Nintendo 3DS line of handhelds through June of 2014, you see Nintendo has sold 44 million units. That's a monstrous success by any measure.
These markets aren't far from each other
Sony doesn't like to break out sales numbers of the PlayStation Vita, for obvious reasons, so we can assume far fewer units have been sold to date.
In the quarter that ended June 28, Apple sold 35.2 million iPhones. In one quarter. That's a 12 percent jump from the previous year, and that number actually failed to beat analysts' estimates. The sales numbers of iPhones are so high that 35.2 million in one quarter is seen as disappointing in some circles. Apple sold 9 million iPhone 5S and 5c models in three days back in 2013. This is the power of a new model of iPhone.
We track console sales in the hundreds of thousands to low millions per month. Apple tracks its launch sales in millions per day, and these spikes happen at least once a year. Even console launch weekends can't compete. The PlayStation 4 sold 10 million consoles in nine months, for comparison. And yes, these devices are competing. Phones and tablets eat your time and money, and both are a zero-sum game in most households.
These markets aren't the same, but they're not far from each other. And the volume of sales are so heavily weighted in Apple's favor that it's hard to even take the competition seriously.
It's not about apples, it's about opportunity
Of course we're measuring apples to oranges. Your iPhone and iPad allow you to do everything from making calls to reading comic books to playing games to taking pictures and sharing them. I grew up with a digital 8-track recorder in a dumpy basement studio with my guitar and a few drums; that's how I recorded music. My son can do the same thing on his tablet.
The number of devices that smartphones and tablets have eaten is amazing. Apple looks at industries and turns them to dust. Our phone is our preferred camera. It's our Walkman. It's our camcorder. It's our Game Boy. Of course this isn't a fair fight; for most people, good enough is exactly that, and dedicated devices lose almost every time.
"If it wasn't obvious before, it's crystal clear today. The dedicated portable GPS device is dead, with Apple and Google playing pallbearer to Garmin, Magellan and TomTom's hardware businesses," Wired wrote back in 2012 when GPS functionality was added to mobile devices. Who needs to buy a dedicated GPS device when you can download an app, or use the free functionality that comes with your device?
This is where we are with gaming, and it's important to pay attention and treat it with respect. You may personally prefer the bigger screens and dedicated buttons you get with your 3DS and PS Vita — I do too — but what people who write for or read gaming sites don't impact is the overall market. Apple is putting a gaming device into the pockets, hearts and minds of damned near everyone on the planet, and Google is doing the same thing, albeit with a much weaker for-pay app ecosystem on Android.
Apple has created a strong ecosystem for games, and now more people have access to inexpensive, easy-to-play games than ever before. Your parents play games on their phones, and you likely do as well. When it comes time to buy a portable gaming device, or even a console, everyone with a smartphone has to decide if their device doesn't handle games well enough to justify the purchase price of a whole new piece of hardware.
Nintendo has no place to go
You need only look at how much Nintendo is losing quarter after quarter to realize the dangers of pushing devices, and being a company, that only focuses on gaming.
The Wii U is struggling, and the dedicated portable market is softening. If gaming disappeared tomorrow Microsoft would still have its Enterprise division and we need to remember that Sony makes most of its money from selling insurance.
If unitasking devices are falling out of favor, unitasking companies aren't far behind. This is why Apple has its fingers in so many kinds of electronics and businesses. If gaming tanks, if dedicated devices go the way of the GPS, Nintendo has no place to go.
Why today is important for gaming
The idea of dedicated portable gaming devices with buttons and everything is already alien to children who are growing up around multitasking machines and touchscreens. So you can try to ignore the crush of Apple news today, but it will be impossible. For gaming, it's important to pay attention.
Today is going to be a big day for consumer electronics in general, and gaming is going to get hit in the crossfire, for better or worse. You can follow along with the event live at the Verge, and we'll have our own coverage after the event concludes. If Apple is able to do for wearables what it did for portable music players, many things are about to change.
You may not like Apple, and you may not like the style of games that are played on these devices, but the company is about to announce something that will likely eclipse the year's sales of "standard" gaming portable devices in a few hours.