Could Apple Become Games Console King?

If you haven’t thought about Apple’s ability to compete with Sony and Microsoft in the living room convergence market, and ESPECIALLY if you haven’t heard of the iTV yet – yes, that’s like iPod for your TV – than you really want to check this short article out, by Aaron Ruby of Next Generation.

And it’s as entertaining as it is full of very very thought-provoking information. How unusual!

You really should click and read the whole thing, but if you won’t, here’s the snippet chock full of the most mind-blowing information:

According to Disney chief Bob Iger, the iTV wireless streaming media device will have a hard drive. He recently said “It’s a small box about the size of a novel, and not War and Peace, by the way. It plugs into the television like any other peripheral would, like a DVD device. It’s wireless. It detects the presence of computers in your home; in a very simple way you designate the computer you want to feed it and it wirelessly feeds whatever you downloaded on iTunes which include videos, TV, music videos, movies or your entire iTunes music library to your television set.”

A plausible argument by Roughly Drafted’s Daniel Eran has the iTV being held just long enough for Apple to introduce 802.11n, which would allow 200 Mbit connections to an access point, nearly 10 times the a/g variety and more than enough to stream DVD-quality content wirelessly from a Mac (and possibly a PC). That would help explain the inclusion of an HDMI connection on Apple’s new device. As Eran points out, you don’t need an HDMI connection if you are simply streaming downloadable 640X480 content.

Some have speculated that the iTV may also be destined to get one of Intel’s Conroe-L processors, which it would need to process the HD content Apple eventually wants to sell over iTunes. Further, according to some, it’s very possible video card drivers could be written so that graphic output data could be sent to a network port instead of the monitor connected to the card. That opens the possibility of using iTV and a wireless controller to remotely play Mac/PC games (*cough* WoW *cough*) in your living room.

Convenient then, that on September 7, 2006, Apple filed a patent application for a handheld electronic device with “multiple touch-sensitive devices.” Sure, the primary application of the patent is likely to layer a touch screen over the iPod’s display, but applications that involve improving gaming control with Apple products is not far-fetched.

All of this basically means that Apple could be on the verge of launching a slimmed down, single-core Mac Mini capable of streaming interactive content from a host computer and capable of storing and playing casual games locally.

I’m sure I don’t need to point out how well this builds on the ridiculous social AND business phenomenon that the iPod has become. And I’m sure I don’t need to point out how much sense this makes for truly enabling digital convergence – something which to this point has only been lamely satisfied by PC and software and console makers who are more interested in selling their own product than in allowing people to enjoy their media and games where and how they want to.

But what I feel like I DO have to point out is the implications of this bit:

Further, according to some, it’s very possible video card drivers could be written so that graphic output data could be sent to a network port instead of the monitor connected to the card. That opens the possibility of using iTV and a wireless controller to remotely play Mac/PC games (*cough* WoW *cough*) in your living room.

That is yet another reference to World of Warcraft, yes, everyone’s Holy Grail in the post-dot-com quest for the return of gigabucks. Like the idea of playing WoW on your couch, with a paperback sized touch screen controller?

But WoW isn’t the point or the end, it’s just a one gigabuck per year example of what this could be capable of. The really really interesting potential for this, if they do it like customers would want it, instead of as proprietary business instincts will want it – the really interesting potential for this is to make it a cross-platform convergence device, which will let us do whatever we want with our TV and entertainment center:

  • play music from our iPod or other mobile music device
  • take calls from our cell phones
  • watch DVDs or MP3s or Tivo or any other video stream
  • play a game that runs on our PC or Mac or Linux box
  • play a game that runs on our XBox 360 or PS3 or Wii
  • play a game that runs on our PSP or GBA or Zune
  • play a classic arcade game running in an arcade emulator running on the iTV itself
  • surf the web – putting that in one bullet isn’t really fair; there’s a whole range of Web apps which would be unprecented on a good audio/video entertainment system – just think about how much is happening with digital media of all kinds on the web, and how ideal our home entertainment system is for all those kinds of digital media
  • manage, organize, tag and edit our audio or video or digital photo collections, right from an ideally comfortable, loud and big-screen seat

I highlighted my own personal favorites, and I could go on – but tell me, am I exaggerating the potential importance of a wireless digital box which can feed our TV/stereo systems content from ANY digital source? I don’t think so. I think this could be Apple’s next iPod-scale success. Could being the operative word.

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3 thoughts on “Could Apple Become Games Console King?

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  2. Andrea Garbagnoli says:

    Sony is going to transform PS3 into a HTPC with Web access, video player… I’m dreaming of a “multiple architecture” Mac; varius series, each specialized in one or more applications: games, CAD, video editing, photo editing, via specialised chips (Amiga-style) (maybe FPGA), and a base series with these functions emulated in software (reduced performance for a reduced price, but features available anywhere).

  3. theschwartz says:

    Interesting thought, Andrea, thanks for posting it. Software emulation that makes the user interface consistent, while specialized hardware optimizes according to the user’s priorities. Makes sense from the architecture and user point of view, but it makes me wonder about the business model for Apple, since it means developing and distributing and supporting different models. But it seems like a modular enough architecture and enough common code and user interface could make it work. One fundamental problem everyone who tries to create a convergence machine is going to face is the user interface design problem. The more functions you add to a machine, the harder it is to have a consistent, coherent, intuitive user interface and user experience. Many would say Apple has an edge on design problems, like that one, but we shall see.

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