WWDC: Now it looks like Apple's going to take out the console market

WWDC 2013: With the dust settling on the recent Xbox and PS4 launches, Apple [AAPL] appears to have its own plan for the console gaming market -- though it's keeping pretty quiet about it, particularly since these plans could reflect its intentions for an Apple television.


[ABOVE: Apple's standalone reference design for games controllers. Actual products may differ from this  design.]

It's all about control

The company this week discussed its newly published (and still in development) Game Controller APIs, revealing both Logitech and MOGA intend launching games controllers for iOS devices this Fall. (Apple sure seems to be investing in one big harvest inQ4).

The company has designed specifications for Bluetooth-based hardware controllers for iOS -- one specification describes a device which wraps itself around an iPhone, so you can use its display as your gaming surface; the other discussed a handheld controller which is used separately, like any other gamepad.

The specification describes a controller at least as complex as those you get with a PS or Xbox system: you get dual analog sticks, four front buttons, and left and right "shoulder" buttons.

The company told developers the new Game Controller framework would be included inside iOS 7 and OS X 10.9, though the developer guidelines also tell developers that these controllers cannot be the only way with which to control a game when you play it on an iOS device or Mac.

Critics will point to the unlicensed game controllers for iPhones and iPads that have been manufactured by third parties for years and argue that this is yet another example of Apple devouring its young.

Apple watchers will speculate excitedly at the opportunity this gives games developers to build titles for Apple's devices.

[ABOVE: Anki, introduced by Apple at WWDC proves the company's interest in unique gaming propositions.]

Apple gaming's 4K future?

Gabe Newell's analysis that Apple could become the biggest player in the games market could be proved correct: "The threat right now is that Apple has gained a huge amount of market share, and has a relatively obvious pathway towards entering the living room with their platform," he said.

The speculation won't end there of course: after all, attach iOS to a 4K Apple television, add one of these games controllers and you can imagine titles with at least as much gameplay depth and graphics quality as those available on any other console platform, current or future.

Apple has said again and again that television remains an area of intense interest to the company. The company has clearly bought television even more into the fold with its forthcoming OS X iteration, Mavericks, which carries the ability to use an AirPlay connected Apple TV and TV combination as a second display.

This means that once Maverick ships in Fall, many Mac users will automatically enjoy the ability to play Game Controller enabled games on their television sets using one of the new to market games controllers. AirPlay and Apple TV will also let iPhone or iPad users play their games using their television as the display.

That's a pretty big deal: but expectation of an Apple television continues to circulate, particularly in light of the company's decision to offer 4K support in its future Mac Pro upgrades (due in Fall) and next iteration of Final Cut Pro X.

[ABOVE: An interesting slice of 4K-made content -- unfortunately you can't see the difference in this compressed YouTube clip.]

The content ecosystem

Certainly, there's technical challenges to 4K: A movie made in the format won't even fit on a Blu-Ray disc and sure takes an age to download off of the Internet, but you needn't worry, as that's where HEVC/H.265 steps in. That's the standard most of these high-def assets will be shifting in online, and because this is such a powerful codec, you'll find that your 4K (likely only in Ultra-HD, but…) movies will be more than fast enough to download and stream via a decent (c.20Mb) broadband connection.

But who will be offering these movies to download? Who is there who has an existing relationship with the movie studios and already offers a successful movie download service? Answers on a postcard, please.

Given that 4K TVs are hitting the market at ever decreasing prices, it seems more than likely Apple will itself hit market with a range of 4K displays to accompany the new Mac Pros. It would be churlish not too. This means it is highly likely to be already speaking with manufacturers (Sharp, for example) who might be able to produce such displays in quantity.

It's also worth pondering that 4K display prices can be encouraged to decrease to match the comfort zones of a money-conscious market simply by stimulating mass market demand for these things. You could achieve this by offering products to the pro video/broadcast creation markets, prosumer markets, and, potentially, the market for connected and intelligent TVs. So who has a foothold in at least two of those markets? iDon't know, really I don't…

[ABOVE: Apple's last foray into console gaming wasn't especially succesful, but to be honest I'm more horrified for what these people are WEARING!]

Platform evolution?

Put all these rumors together and you could imagine Apple underpinning its whole platform with the deployment of 4K support. While this may take more than a few months to achieve, the platform would comprise mobile devices capable of scaling down 4K assets for use on smaller screens, and larger desktop systems, such as Macs or televisions, capable of handling full weight 4K (albeit in HEVC/H,265).

The platform would also consist of the provision of content for these systems. That content could potentially include TV, movie and games media, and (in Apple's case) would also include provision of systems with which to create such content. (This is where my timing could be off -- as there's little point offering 4K televisions without such content, and with 4K in its infancy, the repertoire of available 4K content is pretty small).

This may change. "According to reports Apple has been actively encouraging devs at WWDC to create games to work with third-party MFi controllers," claims KnowYourMobile.

Where we stand today however, given Apple's provision of Games Controller software within iOS and OS X, is that the company seems set to take a bigger slice of the gaming market, and certainly is in position to introduce app support within the Apple TV, even if it fails to bring an Apple television product to market in the immediate future.

That's probably part of what former Microsoft Xbox Product Marketing chief, Robin Burrowes, has been working on as head of App Store Marketing for iTunes Europe.

Burrowes isn't the first games industry figure to be chosen by Cupertino. A series of hires across the last few years confirm Apple's on track to continue expansion of its presence in the gaming market. These include former Nintendo PR chief, Robert Saunders and former Activision, EA and Xbox PR boss Nick Grange.

In the event Apple does do this (and I think it will) it's no surprise whatsoever that console manufacturers have been looking to Cupertino with a good deal of fear. Apple already sells more games via iTunes than those sold across the entire handheld games console market: now it seems set to take a slice of the more traditional console games market, too.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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