Google and Console Makers Beware: Apple Already Has the Makings of a Great Game System

From increasingly better games to controller support, the pieces are falling into place for an Apple game console

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Apple, TIME Tech Illustration

As a parade of smaller companies race to release low-cost, Android-based game consoles, Google is reportedly building one of its own.

But as the Wall Street Journal’s anonymously sourced story last week said, Google is mainly concerned about Apple, not about scrappy start-up efforts like Ouya and GameStick. The story cited “people briefed on the matter” who said “Google is reacting in part to expectations that rival Apple will launch a video-game console as part of its next Apple TV product release.”

Although Apple, secretive as always, has not indicated anything of the sort, Google should be concerned, and so should Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. Apple already has the makings of a great game console, whether it’s actively working on one or not.

More Than Just Angry Birds

First of all, let’s dispel the myth that iOS is only good for casual, disposable games. The platform has come a long way from Angry Birds and Doodle Jump, with increasingly sophisticated games for those who seek them out.

In fact, some games that were critically acclaimed on traditional consoles have been making their way to iPhones and iPads. Bastion, XCom and The Walking Dead are available now. Limbo, Terraria and The Cave are coming out soon. These are excellent games that should help erase the stigma surrounding iOS and mobile games in general.

Meanwhile, major publishers have been starting to treat iOS more seriously. Eidos will soon release Deus Ex: The Fall, an iOS game that aims to have similar production values as its console predecessor, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Ubisoft is working on Trials Frontier, a mobile version of the popular extreme-motocross series, for 2014. Electronic Arts was ahead of the curve with a mobile version of Dead Space, which still managed to preserve the creepy, isolated atmosphere of its console counterpart. This trend will only continue, as mobile platforms prove more lucrative for publishers than dedicated handheld gaming systems.

And while classic games aren’t always welcome on the latest consoles, they’re finding new life on iOS. If you want to play games that stand the test of time, iOS has lots of old hits like Pac-Man, Doom and a massive collection of Atari classics, along with newer gems like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Of course, iOS has its share of more casual games, along with finely crafted games that were built specifically for phones and tablets. I only bring up the examples above to show how much iOS has grown as a gaming platform. It’s not just about five-minute, throwaway experiences anymore, and the number of quality games available is going to keep growing with time. While Android has its share of great games as well, a lot of the examples I mentioned are iOS-only.

Apple’s Embrace of Buttons

In the past, it was easy for console owners to poo-poo mobile gaming for one major reason: touchscreens just can’t replace the accuracy of a real controller with physical buttons.

It seems that Apple has listened, because the next version of iOS will include a standard way for game developers to add controller support. Although some outside companies have tried to bring controller support to games — Ion’s iCade being the most notable example — an official solution from Apple is ideal.

For one thing, it’ll encourage more developers to support physical controllers (especially for games that are being ported from other game consoles), and may even encourage more iOS ports of console games. It will also open up the market to more hardware makers who want to sell their own controllers. Logitech and Moga (maker of the excellent Moga Pro for Android) are already confirmed as launch partners.

Google, by comparison, has yet to establish any sort of official controller support for Android games. This has led to a messy situation with lots of competing players. One game might support Xperia Play controls, but not Moga controls. Another game may support the generic Bluetooth HID, but not Xperia Play. Users must hunt for supported games on their own, or rely on controller makers to guide them. It’s not a great situation, and the longer Google goes without addressing it, the more time Apple has to build up its own library of controller-supported games.

ios7gamecenter

One Platform, Many Devices

Apple’s Game Center is now approaching three years old, and while it started out rough, it has since matured as a way to connect with friends and save your game progress across all iOS devices. Game Center would be a major asset for an Apple game console, because it would allow players to start playing on an iPhone or iPad, and pick up where they left off on the television.

Other companies are just getting around to this type of cross-device support. Google launched a competitor to Game Center in May, but the number of supported games is tiny, and I’m worried about potential barriers to user adoption due to Google+ branding. Microsoft has been talking about cross-device play for years but hasn’t done much with the idea besides carrying Xbox Live Gamertags and Achievements from consoles to mobile devices. Sony’s PlayStation Mobile initiative is still a major letdown, with few noteworthy games and no clear product direction.

Although Apple has been criticized for not understanding games, the company jumped onto the cross-device concept early on, and now stands to reap the benefits of a polished platform with broad developer support. Everyone else is way behind.

All That’s Left Is the System Itself

At least in terms of software and services, Apple’s in good shape for releasing a game console, or console-like features as part of the next Apple TV. All that’s left is the hardware. That’s the tricky part.

The existing Apple TV only has 8 GB of built-in storage, a chunk of which is occupied by the operating system. It’s not unheard of for an iOS game to exceed 1 GB in size, which means today’s Apple TV would be inadequate for storing a large games library. Even if Apple boosted storage capacity to 16 GB, that’s still on the skimpy side.

Relying on AirPlay to send games from an iPhone or iPad to Apple TV isn’t really ideal either, because of latency issues with streaming video over wi-fi. Plugging a phone or tablet into the television via a cable is an option, but an inelegant one.

I hesitate to offer Apple advice, but I could imagine the company offering a more expensive Apple TV aimed at gaming — say, $149 or $199 instead of $99 — with at least 32 GB of storage, and possibly a bundled controller. At that price, it would still undercut the Wii U ($300), PlayStation 4 ($400) and Xbox One ($500). It would compete more directly with the existing PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and would be a premium option compared with cheaper Android game consoles, in the same way the $329 iPad Mini is positioned against $200-and-under Android tablets.

I’m not arguing Apple will kill traditional consoles overnight, or that big-budget, $60 games are going away. I’m saying that if the next Apple TV plays games, it will be a major threat to its competitors as they battle for living-room supremacy, and may even appeal to people who say they’ll never give up their Xboxes or PlayStations. An Apple TV with gaming doesn’t have to win those users over completely; it merely has to steal their attention away bit by bit, just as the iPhone and iPad have already done.

23 comments
MichaelWelborn
MichaelWelborn

apple has already tried to make a console but failed it was called the apple pippen

noyavellanosa
noyavellanosa

The Samsung Smartphone Gamepad has already been released by the way. Wooot!

pattonch
pattonch

It's kind of funny how everyone is all "It won't ever compete with ps4 or xbox1"....umm, this article never said anything about THIS YEAR. Or even next. It's talking about the future: a vision that every game company should have. Also, they never said "The iPad system will be used to compete with these consoles." NO. It's saying that the PLATFORM for the system is there. As far as specs, I'm sure they could ALL develop next-gen hardware- Google and Apple are both large, rich companies. Also, are we forgetting that Android is based on Linux? And a LOT of games can be run on Linux, whether ported or originated on it. I think it's an incredibly viable option for both Apple and Google to make gaming systems. But again, nothing is said about this year, or even next. 

But if it comes between the two, Apple is rotten, and open source ware is the way to go (and steam already has Indie support...). I'm personally tired of big box store franchises like CoD. Let's see what the rest of the world has to offer (and apple sure as h*ll won't let THAT happen...)

JamesCampton
JamesCampton

This must be a joke! There is no way a ipad or Android based device can have the same power as a dedicated gaming system. A gamer wants to be immersed not distracted for a few minutes. If anything ios and Android have brought people closer to buying dedicated systems buy giving them glimpses of what is actually possible not vica versa. Maybe you should also note that ps4 and xbox1 are already pre sold out.

Leif Ostring
Leif Ostring

Ha ha ha :-) Controllers with only one button...

auronlu
auronlu

I've had a ball playing some games remastered for iPad that first came out for SNES, Famitsu, GBA, and many venerable portable game systems years ago. Final Fantasy I through V are from a different era, but they're a hoot. (A bit overpriced because Square Enix *headdesk*, but still). There's a lot of modern games as well from World of Goo to Infinity Blade that are ... dangerous distractions.


Or, for the slightly more intellectually challenging things, there's something geekily satisfying about visiting the space shuttle Endeavour in Los Angeles -- the real one -- booting up F/Sim Space Shuttle simulator, and executing a perfect landing at Edwards AFB in virtual reality while sitting under the real thing. 

Now if Disney would just bring back all the Star Wars arcade games. I have the Falcon Gunner, and AR mode is a hoot, but I notice it's been taken down from the iTunes store along with X-wing and all the rest. Disney, are you MAD? Those games are fantastic!

djsamsoul
djsamsoul

You forgot to mention that Macbook Pro (and all Mountain Lion) devices have unofficial PS3 controller support right out of the box. It is practically plug-and-play. 

MrBenGhazi
MrBenGhazi

Apple will be successful in continuing to release casual games. No one that "seriously" plays games will opt for an Apple "console," even if it has better support than Apple products historically have. The market is already flooded (with Valve now jumping into the mix) and the number of people playing games on PC have exploded. I just don't see it happening.

Elkhorn
Elkhorn

I can't really see the logic behind people who are willing to buy an IOS or Android console, except just to say to others that they have one.

If you have an IOS / Android phone or tablet , why do you need to have a separate console to play games that are already in your device? Can you bring the console when traveling, waiting in line or even anywhere in the house? If you already have a phone and a table that can play the same games, why waste money to buy a console that will have the (almost) same specs as the phone / tablet. Why not just use the money to buy a new tablet or phone?

Those consoles will only attract the attention of casual gamers and not hard core gamers that would like to spend quality hours in exploring the game.

Dan Kuhlman
Dan Kuhlman

Pfft. Any console Apple makes will be so locked down, laden with DRM, and expensive that only fanboi's would buy it. I predict another epic failure.

cerics
cerics

Wait... my bandwagon doesn't have plans for a gaming console yet?  Noooo.... I shall write an article to bide time!

TemperThantrum
TemperThantrum

are you serious?? your comparing an apple device to a freaging console like the 360/ps3 or xbox one and ps4?  are you nuts??       can the current ipad play hitman absolution which is powered by the glacier 2 engine.. or how about crysis 3? can your precious ipad play crysis 3?? what about total rome war with a thousand troops on the battle field, it's not even comparable.... honestly this article is an effin  joke. the current ipad 4 is capable of producing 40 million triangles an amazing feat for a tablet but nowhere near the 500 million triangles the 360 is capable of doing.. this article is such total Bullpockey.

DariusSumpter
DariusSumpter

I enjoyed reading your article very much. I have had a similar view, and think this would be a wonderful idea. Here's to the future. Good article. Cheers,

ryse
ryse

It won't pose any threat to Xbox One or PS4. Those consoles are way more powerful, and this article doesn't even sway me slightly. I've played most of androids/iOS's more serious games like Dead Trigger, Deadspace, Shadowgun and Nova, and still they're just not as good, and still not as serious games as those coming to PS4 and Xbox One. 

mj19
mj19

Apple has some serious gaming stuff and services like game center with it and a Apple TV with gaming built in will be great, and if launched at competitive price, it will surely pose a big threat to game market biggies ..

auronlu
auronlu

@djsamsoul PS3 controller works on Lion as well; I've got one plugged into the iMac I'm using right now. (PCSX-R  seems to do a good job of running PS1 game discs; I haven't yet figured out how to run PS2 game discs). 

auronlu
auronlu

@ZacPetit You do realize that there are PS emulators on Mac, now? ;) 

MuricanBob
MuricanBob

LOL, did you even read the article?

newmanjb
newmanjb moderator

@TemperThantrum Okay, I'll bite. Personally I value good game design over the number of triangles. While more processing power certainly enables designs that aren't possible on weaker machines, it is by no means a guarantee of superior design. The fact that people even debate things like KOTOR vs. Mass Effect is proof of that. And with so many interesting indie developers doing games on iOS, there's something to be said for a low-cost console that gets those games onto the big screen. (Ouya is trying, but failing for a number of reasons that don't apply to Apple, such as distribution issues, lack of developer support and unrefined software.)