While mobile telephones have yet to approach the capabilities of dedicated gaming platforms like the Sony PSP or Nintendo DS, they nonetheless offer impressive gaming potential. We took a look at the three biggest names in mobile phone firmware Google's Android, Apple's OS 4, and the open-source alternative Symbian. Our goal was to answer one simple question: which mobile operating system is better for mobile gaming?For each system, we looked at two types of games dedicated and online. Dedicated games are anything written specifically for that platform; these usually need to be purchased, downloaded and installed in order to be enjoyed. Online games are just that they're out there on the internet, and users just have to point their phone's web browser at them in order to play. These web games use either flash or java technology, and can range from simple Tetris clones to real-money casino games like slots, poker, or blackjack.
Released in October of 2008, Google's Android mobile operating system is based on a Linux kernel. As of early 2010, it is the fourth most popular smartphone platform, at least in the US. The Android OS supports both accelerometer and multi-touch interaction. It offers excellent graphics capabilities, especially when it comes to its 3D rendering potential. Games like the popular HomeRun Battle 3D really show what the device is capable of. Visually, Android games can rival the Nintendo DS, and devices that offer a touch-screen interface make the comparison even more apt.Online gaming on the Android suffers. Its java support is mediocre, and as of yet, it does not support flash, so most online games won't even run on Android devices. Fortunately, full flash support has been promised with the v2.2 update, due out later this year.
Excellent graphics capabilities
Multi-touch and accelerometer support
Lack of available games
Very poor web game support
Apple OS 4
Apple's upcoming update to their iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch software has been making headlines recently. It offers several great updates to the existing version, most notably its multitasking capabilities.For gamers, however, not much is new. Apple has been shouting about the new Game Center, but users seem less excited. It's basically a clone of Xbox Live, offering multiplayer gaming over networks. While Apple is in the lead in this department, we will have to wait to see how this pans out.Beyond the new Game Center, OS 4 supports an enormous variety of downloadable games, available through the Apple Apps Store. Many are free, and those that aren't come very cheap. The variety is outstanding, and the quality is often jaw-dropping, especially when enjoyed on an iPad.As for online gaming, OS 4 fares quite well. Despite its lack of flash, there are many dedicated iPhone games that can be played instantly on the internet. In addition to many 3rd party providers, Apple hosts a huge selection of "official" web apps on its homepage.
Incredible number of downloadable and web-based games
Multi-touch and accelerometer support
No flash support (maybe never)
Games can be expensive
This open-source smartphone platform has been in development for a while, but its code was just released in February 2010. Nearly half of all smartphones sold are based on the Symbian OS, making it the world's most popular mobile operating system. Most devices out there still run on older Symbian versions. In fact, at the time of writing this, only one device supports the new Symbian^3 the Nokia N8. Its touch screen, HD screen and 3D graphics accelerator beg for hardcore games to push its limits. Unfortunately, Symbian is behind the times, and has quite a lot of catching up to do before it can compete with Google or Apple for a top spot in the mobile market. Yes, the numbers are in Symbian's favor, but if we look at quality over quantity, it comes in last.Oh yeah, games Symbian offers excellent java support, making it good for web-based games, but since most Symbian devices don't offer touch screens, they can be cumbersome to play. Dedicated games for the Symbian are rar e, and tend to look and play like the best games from five years ago.
Widespread availability, high device compatibility
Excellent java support makes web gaming easy
Most phones run old versions
Not much available in the way of download games
The verdict?It's hard to say. Symbian falls gently into 3rd place, that much is clear, but Apple's OS 4 and Google's Android battle hard for the number one spot. Apple definitely has the "wow factor" going for it, and the number of games available is astonishing, but with Android getting flash with the next update, it will offer something that iPhone users have been after for years.
At the end of the day, we are tempted to call Apple OS 4 the winner of the mobile telephone gaming war, but the world moves fast, and Android is catching up fast.
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