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Apple Game Console? iOS+OSX Controller Framework

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As we’re getting out of Apple’s worldwide developer conference (WWDC), the news that a new controller framework has been added to the iOS and OS X SDKs is already creating some waves on the net. Specifically, this would be the “proof”, or at least the “writing on the wall” that  Apple is working on a game console. Surely, there’s no other reason to support controllers, right? Wrong.

Everybody should support controllers

First of all, every manufacturer who wants to be serious about gaming needs to add some form of controller support, so this is not really a revolution, but rather the logical and smart thing to do. It’s true that the nature of gaming on iOS is very different from Mac OS and other “fixed” platforms, but there are many mobile games that do benefit from having a physical controller. FPS are the obvious ones (Dead Trigger is 10X better with a controller), but the experience of  Racing and Platform games is also better with an analog/digital pad.

All right, but “what if” Apple was to build a console?

This would be a very interesting development! For instance, there’s little that prevents Apple from updating its Apple TV to support games and Bluetooth controllers today. In fact, it’s even surprising that it has not happened yet, but Apple has only so many (human) resources and it needs to focus on its main business, namely the iPhone, which brings home half of the revenues and more than half of the profits. Yet, a gaming device is very much a possibility and nearly everything is already in place: app store, developers, games… the controller would be one of the final refinement before it’s all good to go.

Should Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo prepare for the Applecalypse?

If we are talking about an iOS, ARM-based game console, not really… or should I say “not directly”. I mean that a product like that won’t be able to beat them on their “gaming” turf. Today, there is nothing “ARM-powered” that is powerful enough to provide the same gaming experience as the PS4, Xbox One and Wii-U. It’s that simple. Just look at the best E3 2013 Trailers.

However, such a device could harm those established consoles in the sense that it takes “air time” on the TV. While someone (like young kids) is using the Apple device to play, it may monopolize the TV and therefore the “real” gaming console can’t be used. Games consoles “hurt” TV companies in the exact same way: while someone is gaming, nobody can watch TV shows (and therefore TV ads). That of course assumes that we are in the living room and not a bedroom. Basically all these devices will fight for “air time” on the TV.

More likely, a small Apple console will really compete with devices like Ouya, SHIELD, other “Android game boxes” and Smart TVs.

Wouldn’t that be a killer-feature for an Apple HDTV?

Assuming that we get some kind of iPhone-6 level hardware in an Apple Television, that would lead to a VERY nice smart TV hardware, but it still won’t compete with classic game consoles. Also, in order to be successful, an Apple television needs to provide better/unique content, and I bet that this is the main problem that Apple is working on tight now. Since Netflix and Amazon are launching their own TV shows, it means that they haven’t cracked the code to get great content deals without creating it.

Apple would probably have a neat industrial design, which is important, but I don’t expect people to buy a TV based on the looks alone. This is not a smartphone that can parade , or a laptop that looks neat at the cafe. To justify the kind of gross margins that Apple investors demands for its product, it needs to provide something else… and iOS games aren’t it.

Conclusion

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An Apple “box” or TV that would be capable of iOS-level gaming would be great, and in some segments of the market, that could be a game-changer. However, if you look at the grand scheme of things, it’s not as big as one may think. In 2012 there were 66M Smart TVs sold, versus 260M smartphones, and the second segment is the one really accelerating hard. If you add tablets, it is clear that mobile developers have already addressed the biggest part of the market.

The other issue for mobiles games is that very few of them can generate the kind of money that a Modern Warfare would get on console ($1.6B on the first week-end). This means that their production teams don’t have the means to compete with classic consoles titles in terms of quality and production value, at least in the short term.

Since Android Smart TVs are going to arrive in force soon, I am sure that Apple will do “something” in order to prevent an Android overrun in another segment of the market. An Apple box seems to be a likely solution since it would sell in higher volumes (13M Apple TV boxes sold to date).

Would an Apple iOS game console be a world-changing event? this remains to be seen, but this wouldn’t be anything comparable to the iPhone’s introduction. As of now, devices like Ouya or SHIELD have yet to prove that there is a substantial market for ARM-powered consoles, and I don’t think that NVIDIA is doing this for the money anyway. Let’s wait and see… What would you want from an Apple game console?

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