iPhone Users Just Want to Have Fun

Admit it, what would you really like to do: manage your calendar or race a monkey encased in a transparent ball through a dazzling 3-D landscape of obstacles?

iPhone users have voted for the latter; Super Monkey Ball ($9.99) is one of a raft of games and entertainment titles for the iPhone atop both the free and paid list of applications available for download at the company’s online App Store.

Of the free applications on a recent check, the top five were all games including “Brain Tuner”, one of the emerging “exercise your mind” class of games that aren’t just, well, pointless.

Number four is the recently launched Audi A4 Driving Challenge, which uses the iPhone’s motion sensing accelerometer to help users virtually drive a simulated version of Audi’s latest car in a racing challenge game. It also happens to be a business application – at least for the publisher, carmaker Audi.

“We’re trying to drive awareness for the A4 leading up to its launch in September,” Jeri Ward, manager of marketing strategies at Audi, told InternetNews.com. “”We wanted to reach consumers and engage them in a unique way with content about the car that’s helpful.”

Ward said Audi is thrilled with the early results that show the game is getting plenty of downloads at the App Store. “Customers are the toughest critics and the pass along factor and the willingness to write reviews is a real test of how compelling something is,” she said.

While Apple is already busy qualifying thousands of titles for the App Store, you can expect the pipeline isn’t likely to slow anytime soon from big commercial developers, startups and individuals for the hot selling device. Ward said Audi used its digital agency, Factory Design Labs in Denver, to develop Driving Challenge and it only took them two weeks. “You can’t develop a television ad in two weeks, that’s for sure,” she said.

A mix of serious and fun

Kenji Kato was one of the first in line for the original iPhone and he uses a mix of “serious” and fun applications. He said the iPhone is rapidly becoming a next generation marketing tool with applications like Audi’s Driving Challenge and brewer Carling that launched iPint for the iPhone a virtual pint of brew that fills up your iPhone till you’re ready to take a sip by tilting the device see the volume of virtual drink decrease appropriately.

“My friends can’t believe it when I say I haven’t found a compelling app for the iPhone yet,” said Kato, a podcaster and member of Stanford’s New Media Center.

But if nothing’s reached the compelling or killer app level for Kato, it’s the broad range of fun and useful applications on the iPhone he said puts it in a class by itself and its utility as a mobile Web browser. He thinks the games are moving up the App Store charts because a growing number of teenagers are getting iPhones and using them for entertainment instead of dedicated portable game systems like the Nintendo DS.

And it’s all gravy for the grownups. “I think most adults won’t buy a Nintendo DS or Sony PSP,” he said, but if you already have the iPhone, there’s some fun stuff.”

He also noted there are plenty of iPhone applications that aren’t worth bothering to download. “There are some great sites for the iPhone like iWeather,” said Kato. “None of the weather-specific apps come close in providing useful information.”

The popularity of entertainment is no surprise to analyst Maribel Lopez because she notes the iPhone isn’t just a phone or even a smartphone.

“It’s really a multimedia device. It has the right screen, you can watch movies, listen to iTunes and it has technology developers can take advantage of like the accelerometer,” Lopez, CEO of Lopez Research in San Francisco, told InternetNews.com. “It’s a great gaming platform, my only complaint is the battery life because, even after turning off Wi-Fi, I’m only getting about four hours.”

She said smartphones traditionally have offered a certain level of utility, like e-mail support and Windows applications. “And the average business person uses those devices, but they’re not running out to buy one,” she said. “The iPhone is just sexy and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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