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Apple’s iPhone gaming success faces a big obstacle

Apple's (AAPL) iPhone is a gaming juggernaut. Games sold through the company’s iOS App Store account for billions in consumer spending. And with its new iPhone 15 Pro line, Apple is looking to expand its video game empire to compete with the likes of Sony’s (SONY) PlayStation, Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox, and Nintendo’s (NTDOY) Switch.

The company says that’s possible thanks to the new A17 Pro chips powering its iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. The chip, Apple says, features a 20% faster graphics processing unit capable of running console quality games. And while Apple has made that claim for years, this appears to be the first time that’s more than hyperbole.

Later this year, Capcom will roll out its “Resident Evil Village,” and the remake of “Resident Evil 4,” for the iPhone 15 Pro line, while Kojima Productions says it’s bringing “Death Stranding” to the phones. And next year, Ubisoft will debut its upcoming “Assassin’s Creed Mirage” on the 15 Pro and Pro Max.

These aren’t some watered-down versions of those games, either. Apple says iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max run full versions of those titles natively.

But Apple’s road to taking on gaming’s big three console makers faces harsh realities, the least of which is whether game developers and publishers will ever get onboard with pumping out high-end console titles for the iPhone.

So why is Apple pushing gaming as such a major part of the iPhone 15 Pro lines’ identity? To help boost sales among gamers in important markets like China where mobile gaming is already massive and Apple’s Android-powered rivals rule.

Apple's iPhone 15 Pro line.
Apple is making gaming one of the signature features of the iPhone 15 Pro line. (Apple) (Apple)

Developers need to get onboard

Apple might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of video games, but the company has made the case that it should be. According to Data.AI, of the $83.1 billion consumers spent on iOS apps in 2022, a whopping $49.3 billion of that was spent on games. That easily eclipses Nintendo’s 2022 full-year sales of $10.8 billion.

But the authority those big numbers confer is hollow since most of these games sold last year are nowhere near as graphically intensive as those available on modern consoles like the PlayStation and Xbox. Apple may rack up numbers with Candy Crush, but full-fat console-quality games like “Resident Evil Village” and “Death Stranding" are not the same.

“Now that iPhone can run the games that typically appeal to really serious hardcore gamers, and if iPhone can run those games natively, then there will be a very large audience that are willing to sometimes purchase the game twice; once on PC and console, and then other times on Apple,” Martin Yang, Oppenheimer senior analyst of emerging technologies and services, told Yahoo Finance Live.

But Apple will need to get far more developers and publishers to actually build high-end games for the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max if it’s going to tackle the likes of the PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch.

“If you're a developer/publisher, devoting significant resources to making a game work on … the brand new iPhone is very low,” IDC research director of gaming and VR Lewis Ward told Yahoo Finance.

According to Wedbush managing director Michael Pachter, if publishers do decide to put out high-end games for the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max, they’ll likely be remakes of older games or modern games ported over from consoles to the iPhone. In other words, instead of games specifically designed for the smartphone.

The iPhone is already a major gaming platform, but console-quality titles would be a whole other level of interactivity. (Image: Apple)
The iPhone is already a major gaming platform, but console-quality titles would be a whole other level of interactivity. (Apple) (Apple)

Apple’s gaming showcase is meant to lure Android consumers

So if getting high-end game developers and publishers to put out titles for the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max is such a difficult proposition, why is Apple showing off its latest smartphones as portable gaming consoles? It's likely because it could help drive sales among existing Android gamers, especially in Asian markets where mobile gaming is huge.

“I think what it really comes down to is that phone sales and there's not any market share gain, it's not going to grow,” Pachter said. “So it just comes down to, can Apple win over some Samsung buyers? And they probably can in Asia.”

Android is the world’s most popular mobile operating system. And smartphone makers ranging from Samsung to ASUS have been calling out their devices’ gaming capabilities for years. And in China, one of Apple’s most important markets, smartphone gaming is absolutely massive.

Putting out the iPhone 15 Pro, and showing off its gaming bona fides, is a way for Apple to better appeal to Android consumers in China.

“The most important thing to take away from this is that Apple is trying to make the strongest case they can that gaming will be better on the new phone, because the chipsets are more powerful than the previous version,” Ward said.

Now Apple just has to convince gamers that its latest high-end smartphones are every bit the gaming platforms the company claims. We’ll get our answer soon, as the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max hit store shelves Sept. 22.

Daniel Howley is the tech editor at Yahoo Finance. He's been covering the tech industry since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielHowley.

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