Why the industry thrives on Apple's benevolent dictatorship

Carter Dotson on the good and bad of Apple dominance

Why the industry thrives on Apple's benevolent dictatorship

Two recent game launches said a lot about the state of mobile gaming.

Amazon Game Studios' Lost Within launched on iOS, as well as on the Amazon Appstore.

Meanwhile Microsoft released Halo: Spartan Assault and Halo: Spartan Strike on iOS; the later also hit the Windows Store and Steam.

In both case, support for iOS is despite each company having their own marketplace.

Clearly, the iOS business is just too lucrative to be ignored.


And here's the problem: Apple has established themselves as the dominant force in mobile

If you're serious about mobile, you have to be on iOS, and that means competition can't flourish because Apple and iOS always win.

Look at the smartwatch market. At launch, Apple Watch has support from over 2,000 apps, more than Android Wear, and even if Pebble claims over 5,000 we know most of those are watch faces.

Apple Watch boosts the likes of Twitter, The New York Times, Nike+, Uber, Expedia et al.

If you're serious about mobile, you have to be on iOS.

Similarly when it comes to games, smartwatch gaming was pretty much nonexistent before the Apple Watch inspired developers to make games for it en masse.

Now EA, Gameloft, TinyCo, Pocket Gems, Seriously etc are updating their games for Apple Watch support, and developers such as Everywear Games are making games specifically for the Apple Watch.

Stolen halo

Of course, it's likely that Android Wear will benefit from the accelerated evolution in app and game design that the Apple Watch started.

But this is just a repeat of Android gaming, which while continually catching up iOS in terms of simultaneous releases, isn't going to surpass iOS any time soon as the prime source of kudos.

Android Wear might improve as a platform but while it lacks install base, Apple Watch is bound to be the leader.

Apple Watch wasn't the first serious smartwatch, but it is the first to generate a serious install base

Similarly, the reason microconsoles like Ouya, Gamestick and Android TV haven't become a proper thing is that Apple TV doesn't yet support games.

The fact is Apple remains mobile's tastemaker. If they aren't doing it, it doesn't matter, it might as well not exist.

Part of this results from iOS being easier to develop for than Android, at least as far as perception goes. There are also far fewer devices to support, and on a per user basis, the market is more lucrative, so Apple creates superior situations for developers to experiment in.

Apple remains mobile's tastemaker. If they aren't doing it, it might as well not exist.

It's a self-perpetuating cycle: non-Apple solutions run into a lack of developer support until Apple makes its move in a particular form factor.

There's little reason to risk developing for a non-Apple implementation of a form factor when there's no evidence that said form factor will manage to have a presence until Apple does it.

And so Apple's dominance in mobile continues.

Microsoft and Amazon, billion dollar companies with their own mobile platforms and app stores, can't successfully build their own thing for that reason, so they wind up reinforcing Apple's ecosystem to have a presence.

Which raises the question for consumers, why jump ship to Amazon or Windows when iOS will have all that content too?

Benevolent dictator

Ultimately this is a sad situation for fans of mobile gaming, because you wind up in the situation that if Apple decides something isn't important, it isn't viable.

Smartwatches have been around for years now, but have only been important for one day.

But the good news is that Apple isn't just sitting on their laurels.

The smartwatch scene might never have taken off because it seems no one besides Apple realized that a watch is a fashion accessory.

Microconsoles haven't take off. Will Apple TV+ ever solve that?

And maybe TV gaming is another thing that Apple has been smart enough to wait out. Some of the excitement about getting indie games on TV via Ouya has been supplanted by the PS4 and Xbox One making this a reality.

Apple might be smart not to jump into a market that's not ready.

And for what it's worth, it's doesn't appear to be holding any grudges. Both Halo: Spartan Strike and Lost Within received prominent Apple features during the week of their release.

It's not ideal Apple is the first mover in mobile, but maybe it's not so bad.

We have a platform that has a clear leader, which others can use as a springboard to make their own platforms work. And perhaps Apple is using their powers for good, not forming markets until they're ready.

Perhaps we don't need microconsoles and VR just yet...

Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!