Apple VP Phil Schiller claims that Apple's iPhone and iPod touch devices are now streets ahead of Sony's PlayStation Portable and Nintendo's DS in the handheld gaming market.

Schiller made the bold claim at Apple's recent launch of a new, improved iPod touch this week, using some rather surprising 'statistical wizardry' to back up his argument.

He notes that the company now has an impressive 21,178 "games and entertainment" titles on the App Store for iPhone and iPod Touch users to download.

Comparing this figure with the numbers of games available on DS (3087) and PSP (607), Apple's VP thinks that the Sony and Nintendo machines "don't really stack up any more."

A meaningless comparison?

"In terms of handheld gaming, this kind of competitive comparison is a necessary angle for Apple, as PSP Go and DSi are now opening up the download space for Sony and Nintendo," said Screen Digest games analyst Steve Bailey.

"But, sheer catalogue count isn't everything. Breadth is vital, sure, but so is depth, and to say that such comparative volumes prevent PSP Go and DSi from providing a satisfying experience is a battle cry rather than a true reflection of the relative potential of each format."

Gamesinvestor.com's Nick Gibson is a little more outspoken in his response to Apple's latest iPhone gaming battle-cry.

"All three [iPhone, DS, PSP] are viable games platforms offering different consumer propositions and different advantages and disadvantages to games developers and publishers," Gibson told TechRadar. "To compare the viability of the respective platforms based solely on the volume of titles available for them is, needless to say, ridiculous."

Nintendo still in the lead

Nintendo, despite having the least number of titles of the three, still clearly leads in the handheld gaming market, however Apple's Phil Schiller spins the figures.

"Nintendo has understood the potential of its handheld (and, also, the Wii), and innovated the software necessary to drive that - achieving so very much with so few titles. Considering such factors as software innovation and quality of online service gives a fuller picture of the battleground," adds Screen Digest's Steve Bailey.

"Also, from Sony and Nintendo's perspective, given the extent, maturity and penetration of their software properties and gaming operations, this is perhaps a straightforward chance to seize opportunity presented by online distribution, rather than a move to engage in direct competition with Apple in a manner that the aforementioned statistics would suggest."

In terms of the 'installed bases' of each gaming device, there are currently around 50 million iPhones and iPod Touches worldwide, around 51 million PSPs and over 100 million DSes. Figures that Apple's VP decided not to shout about at his company's latest show-and-tell…