Do we still need handheld consoles?

Earlier this week Plants vs. Aliens became the fastest-selling app so far, with 300,000 downloads in 9 days. Its sister title, Bejewelled 2, was the f

Earlier this week Plants vs. Aliens became the fastest-selling app so far, with 300,000 downloads in 9 days. Its sister title, Bejewelled 2, was the first paid-for app to hit 3 million sales.

In the Stuff office right now, the talk is all about the latest gaming apps.

Angry Birds (59p on App Store) has kept us occupied for a while, and I'm currently hooked (excuse the pun) on Fishin' 2 Go ($2.25 on Android Market) - and I've never even been fishing. Also for Android, the Mystique series is remarkably atmospheric - think The Ring meets Saw - and the first chapter is free.

So, with all these amazingly addictive games for our smartphones, is there still a place for the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP or whatever handheld consoles come after them?

Well, the trouble with mobile gaming has always been that the lack of dedicated gaming controls meant certain game types were unplayable. To a certain extent, that still applies, but developers are making games specifically for touchscreens, rather than adapting traditional control methods to a keypad like they've had to do in the past.

But the fact remains that a proper directional pad and well-placed buttons are simply the best controls for certain games. Will you ever want to play a football game on an iPhone? Nope. And regardless of how fun it looks to play a racing game by turning your phone like a steering wheel, it just isn't. Good old platformers also benefit from the traditional approach.

So there's still a place in the world for both phone gaming and handheld consoles for the moment - but crunch time will come when gaming apps have become so popular that Nintendo and Sony aren't selling enough games and consoles to make it worthwhile developing new hardware.

That will be when they throw their weight into the phone world. Maybe Sony Ericsson's long-rumoured PlayStation phone will be Android based - but hopefully with a directional pad and buttons alongside the touchscreen.

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