Will smartphones ever replace handheld gaming systems?

Simply, unequivocally, directly: no.

Smartphones will never be able to topple gaming handhelds. At the core of my argument lies this single fact that makes the lifespan of gaming specific handhelds indefinite: Nintendo will never be a phone company. Their portable units rake in so much cash while incorporating relatively inexpensive tech that Nintendo will never have any reason to step away from their current formula.

But, to play to the point that smartphones could stand a chance at replacing handheld gaming units, I’ll flesh my argument out a little further.

First of all, there are two different types of gaming. Generally speaking (I emphasize generally), gamers sit down for either quick sessions or extended sessions. When you want an extended session and are in the comfort of your own home, you’ll plop down in front of the TV or the PC/Mac and do some solid gaming. When you’re on the go? You game for long spurts on your PSP or DS. Ideally, you’re not doing it on your phone.

Sure, you can play games on your phone for good chunks of time, no doubt. There are games that have sucked me in and squeezed every last drop of battery life out of my phone before I put them down. But those instances are a rarity. I’d much rather sit down with my handheld than with my phone to rock any single game for that long. Why? The control scheme. Touch screen gaming is great for quick, arcadey games: Angry Birds, Peggle, Doodle Jump. Those types of games are all perfect, if not initially intended, for touchscreen inputs.

But games like God of War and GTA? Forget it! I don’t care how great you think that virtual d-pad is in the bottom left corner of your touchscreen device, it’s no where near as rock solid as the potential input for a handheld system. Before you go pointing towards the DS as evidence that defeats my point, remember that the DS’ longer titles support more than just touch screen control. Buttons are a necessity. I’ve tried to play games that should have tactile buttons on my iPhone before only to find myself missing those virtual nubs during the most crucial moments. It’s awful!

Next? There is no first party support. You don’t see Apple or Google whipping up epic displays of development prowess for their devices. Sure, the third party development roster is massive, but first party support means a lot when it comes down to the life, longevity and quality of gaming on a given console. The best games are typically those supported by the console manufacturers: Mario, Halo, Uncharted, LittleBigPlanet, Metal Gear, Zelda, Fable… am I making my point? Titans like these don’t exist on the phone gaming platform yet. Their absence makes the devices in question a little flat when it comes to the minds of traditional gamers. There’s no single character or story to invest in. When I buy the 3DS, I know I’ll be getting Mario Kart and Pilotwings (yes!).

That brings me to my other point … without a core, set roster of games brought on by fantastic first party support, there’s nothing to get excited for. There’s no hype for the next big title, no buzz for what new game Apple’s going to show off at E3 (there’s a whole separate reason: mobile giants aren’t involved in the world’s biggest gaming conference). Why is it that games like Angry Birds and Doodle Jump have enjoyed top spots in the App Store for more than a year now? Are there really no other good games coming out?

Of course there are! But there’s no singular root to grab hold of, no lifeline that gets players excited. Nintendo and Sony announce their next big handhelds by showing off all the crazy games that will be arriving soon. Players and fans get excited, they line up to buy the devices. When a mobile company does that, that’s when we’ll consider them a threat to handhelds.

Does mobile gaming exist? Yes, obviously. It’s earning a spot in the gaming industry with each passing instant-classic. However, those that consider it a true threat to titans like Nintendo and Sony are simply mistaken. Smartphone gaming and handheld gaming are two separate beasts. One does not threaten the other, they simply exist together. But I know for a fact that as a gamer I turn to my gaming consoles before my phone.