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Inside iPhone 4: Gyro spins Apple ahead in gaming

Gyro motion extends Apple's lead mobile games

By being first to incorporate motion controls in a mobile device for gaming and other uses, Apple is signaling its intention to not just make its iOS platform a suitable performer for casual games, but to instead increase its vast gaming lead over other smartphone platforms while also outpacing the interactivity of dedicated game devices, essentially beating Nintendo at its own game in the mobile realm.

The problem with adding advanced features to a gaming platform is that historically it's appeared difficult to sell consumers those additional add-on devices. By building gyro support into iPhone 4 (and almost certainly the iPod touch 4 this fall) Apple will rapidly create a large installed base of tens of millions of gyro-ready iOS devices for developers to target. Many games designed to take advantage of gyro data in CoreMotion will be able to degrade gracefully to support less accurate 3-axis control on earlier iPhone and iPod touch devices, just as iOS' Core Location bridges the hardware gap between devices that have GPS and those that can only use WiFi triangulation for positioning.

The new gyro is also an example of how Apple can outpace rival platforms that advertise "openness" as a feature over integration; Google won't be able to move its Android partners to add gyros to all their phones immediately, nor will the company be very interested in developing a sophisticated new motion API in Android, given that such a feature won't do much to help the company sell more ads. Microsoft won't be adding gyro support to Windows Phone 7 from the start, and Symbian's installed base is so large that adding gyros to new phones won't really result in an addressable market for gyro-based games, given the already limited potential for sophisticated Symbian titles right now.

Along with RIM and HP, all of these vendors have plenty of far more serious problems to address first, starting with basic user interface upgrades that make them comparable to the iOS platform; basic support for new tablet devices; and a business model that can sustain app development in the first place. That leaves Apple positioned well ahead in attracting mobile gamers from both conventional handheld devices, while also promoting its lead as the top smartphone platform in terms of sophisticated games and other apps.