Apple's Sneak Attack on Gaming Is Now in Play
Oct 3, 2013 5:00 AM PT
Back in June, Apple let a silly game demonstration take center stage at its Worldwide Developer Conference, and it released a new game controller framework with instructions on how developers could build physical game controllers. The two together led me to believe that an Apple sneak attack on living room gaming was imminent.
Since then, two more elements have risen to the surface, and now I think the sneak attack is well under way. What is that sneak attack, exactly?
Apple certainly recognizes the importance of games on iOS -- not only for flat-out revenue, but for mindshare and ecosystem-building as well. If the world plays with you, people will spend more time and money with you. Pretty simple: Apple will enhance gaming with iOS because it's inextricably connected to its entire ecosystem now.
The Battle Lines Keep Moving
Meanwhile, Microsoft and Sony plan to roll out their next-generation game consoles, the Xbox One and the PS4, this fall. Microsoft is pushing hard with its Xbox Live ecosystem -- movies, tv shows and music -- to take over the living room, which happens to be the home turf for the Apple TV and Apple's iTunes-based media consumption experience. I have to believe that Apple, while not exactly worried, has been paying attention to this.
Plus, old-school gaming consoles are being lump into a new sort of category, as reflected in IDC's latest report, "Worldwide Connected Game and Entertainment Console and Connected Smart TV, Microconsole, and Set-Top Box Gaming 2013-2017 Forecast." Quite a crazy category, yes?
Not exactly. Consoles and gaming are spread across devices and platforms and stores like never before, as the IDC report title explains well enough. Also, living room gaming is rapidly evolving -- so much so that downloaded game revenue from connected console channels via Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo will exceed that of worldwide PC-based online game revenue for the first time this year, according to IDC. (I credit Xbox Live for this more than anything else.)
Valve's Steam distribution platform and Linux-based Steam Box -- and similar efforts, like the Ouya -- won't displace the living-room based console gaming systems any time soon, IDC also predicted, but Valve thinks it has a shot at winning a battle or two.
There's So Much More to Gaming Than Connected Consoles
While the console-oriented gaming world is all abuzz over the new Microsoft and Sony offerings, I'm less convinced that sales are going to blow the field wide open. Why? Everywhere I look, I see console gaming getting eroded by tablet and smartphone gaming.
Kids of all ages seem to be huddling around HDTVs in the basement less and less, while taking tablets, iPods and iPhones to couches more and more. Outside of the home, they're playing games all over the place -- in cars, on planes, in lines and at doctor's offices.
I have no idea how to measure this.
The gaming mindshare seems to be tilting toward mobile, though, and where the mind goes, time playing follows.
Wait, What? Where Are Apple's 2 New Secret Weapons?
As I hinted at earlier, two new developments make me believe Apple is sneaking onto the battlefield. The first is the appearance of leaked photos of a new Logitech MFI iPhone game controller that lets you place an iPhone in between tactile old-school gaming controls.
The touchscreen of an iPhone is great and all, but it's not even close to the feel and control you can get out of an Xbox or Sony controller. A physical controller would be a huge leap forward for all sorts of action games on iOS. If you factor in AirPlay to throw the game onto an HDTV screen in the living room, suddenly popular iOS games would be worth playing to many more people.
There's more. When Apple quietly introduced 64-bit processing and the M7 coprocessor in its iPhone 5s, I sat up a little straighter. Apple just delivered a big boost in computing power in two ways: First, 64-bit processing means more horsepower for games -- more realism, smoother action, bigger worlds. Second? The iPhone is already motion sensitive, but when combined with something like the Logitech MFI iPhone controller, might the M7 coprocessor be used for gaming in new ways? The brains inside your next iOS device will suddenly be at genius levels, so to speak.
These two developments are great for mobile gaming.
The Next Apple TV?
At the same time, Apple has an opportunity to deliver a much more powerful generation of Apple TV this fall. With the new 64-bit Apple processors and a healthy boost of memory, the Apple TV could have the horsepower to run a whole new generation of apps -- and games, games, games. Or not. Apple could leave the brains of its gaming strategy inside the mobile iPhones, iPods and iPads and just let the Apple TV be the bridge to the HDTV in the living room. That works, too.
The point is, while Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo still own the living room gaming world, Apple dominates the mobile gaming world. While no one is hauling around a console everywhere they go, millions upon millions of people are toting iPhones, iPods and iPads -- even into the living room.