Apple will likely be talking about a new Apple TV box at an event on September 9, and trade publication 9to5 Mac says that the fourth-generation box will be the first Apple living room device that actively competes with video game consoles thanks to new hardware, software, and peripherals all targeted at gamers.
In an article published today, 9to5 Mac writer MarK Gurman cited sources with knowledge of the product saying that the new Apple TV will actively compete with Microsoft’s Xbox One, Nintendo’s Wii U, and Sony’s PlayStation 4 game consoles. Some of this may be wishful thinking on Apple’s part, but you can’t deny that Apple has disrupted the handheld console market (think Nintendo’s line of DS and 3DS systems) with its App Store, iPhone, and iPad products. I’ve thought about some of the consequences if Apple really does plan on this new marketing approach.
Previous reports have suggested the new Apple TV will cost $149 or $199 and ship with a built-in App Store and Siri voice command support. If Apple targets its marketing at gamers thanks to features such as Bluetooth controller support (which may not be that appealing), that would be a first. Apple typically throws its marketing dollars at broader audiences, but there’s some serious competition from the game consoles in the living room.
The game machines are entrenched, selling from $200 to $500, with the games selling for $60 each. Apple TV products enable you to play apps via your iPhone on your TV set using AirPlay, which can wirelessly send the image on the screen to your TV. So while you play on the iPad or iPhone, you can see what happens on your TV. This solution targets nongamers or casual gamers, but it hasn’t proven to be a threat to the consoles so far.
At the upcoming event, Apple is rumored to be announcing a near-universal Siri remote control with voice commands. By itself, this doesn’t sound like it would be really useful for gamers. But the remote also has motion controls, so 9to5 Mac writes that could lead to some interesting applications such as using the remote as a steering wheel for a racing game.
Apple will also reportedly offer more support for game controllers with pressure-sensitive buttons and joysticks. These devices connect to iPhones and iPads already via Bluetooth connections. 9to5 Mac is optimistic that these controllers will be more appealing for gamers.
But it’s also worth noting that these Bluetooth controllers are already on the market, and they haven’t done well. One reason is that Bluetooth connectivity isn’t always reliable, and the controllers have been criticized — particularly by Nvidia — as being too slow. Nvidia’s own Shield set-top box uses a Wi-Fi-based game controller instead for speedy interaction that can keep up with super-fast fighting games. If Apple doesn’t support Wi-Fi-based game controllers, gamers might perceive it as a weakness and another reason to avoid the Apple TV box.
But in its favor, Apple has made it possible to create some cool games with high-end 3D graphics via its Metal applications programming interface, which enables games to take advantage of iOS hardware to the fullest. Games such as Super Evil Megacorp’s Vainglory and other iOS games in the works look really good. These games are likely to be much more interesting to gamers and, given the rapid forward progress, could represent the biggest threat Apple poses to the game consoles. After all, the way to beat somebody else’s games is to come up with better games.
And game makers may be more interested in making their games work with game controllers if they know that downloading games to the Apple TV box is going to be a real option. So if Apple makes a good enough case to developers, the games will follow, and then the gamers will show up too.
It may be a stretch for the whole family to join in on Apple TV gaming, as the family room TV is often reserved for watching TV in households. But the Shield set-top box has been quite popular among my family members for playing — Pac-Man. It’s not clear just how many families are going to go crazy over the idea of playing games on a TV via an Apple TV. But it’s one more entry in the battle for the living room.
Jeff Scott, editor and publisher at Slide to Play, said he believes console gamers are giving up their machines already.
“But I think the portability is the key – making games that you can play on your iPhone and continue on your TV should be a focus,” he said.
Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said he didn’t think Apple TV was a threat yet to the consoles. He said, “Not unless it has a radically more powerful graphics processing unit (GPU) inside and a console controller. But a different AAA licensing model would be interesting. Think Nvidia Shield with a lot Of AAA titles.”
Apple is reportedly working on deals with content providers so that users will be able to give up cable TV subscriptions, but that isn’t expected to arrive until later, due to difficult negotiations. Apple’s new set-top box is also expected to debut alongside an iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus.