Could Apple TV be Apple's Foray into the Console Market?

Jul 06, 2010

is the Apple TV Apple's gaming trojan horse?

Yesterday I wrote about Google TV and Apple TV, and the different approaches taken by these two tech giants in the battle for the computer/internet in the living room. Another thought occurred to me about the Apple TV, and it has to do with what the app store did for the iPhone. When Apple first launched the iPhone jobs emphasized that what Apple was launching that day was three devices:

  • A wide screen iPod with touch controls

  • A revolutionary new mobile phone

  • A breakthrough Internet communications device

Of course all three devices turned out to be the same device: the iPhone. The one thing Jobs didn't predict is that the iPhone would become the de facto phone for writing software for, and that games would be one of the most popular categories (17.6% of apps are games) of applications for the iPhone. In fact, it seems even Jobs believes that games are the biggest use of the iPod Touch. And why not? If you are a casual gamer you can buy a Nintendo DS for $129 and games for $29.99, or you can buy an iPod touch for $200 and download hundreds of games for a few dollars and get a great music player as well as an internet device.

And that leads me to where I am as a gamer, as I am one of those who bought an iPod Touch (I refuse to get on at&t;'s network, hence no iPhone). Initially I bought it because I wanted a better iPod (my old mini was running out of power very quickly), but I found the device got more useful the more I used it: wifi came in handy when browsing the web, it works great to show off my photo library, downloading podcasts without having to synch to the computer is awesome, and having the app store allows me to download useful apps to use wherever I have a web connection. Of my 57 apps currently installed, I have 6 games installed. For me, that's perfect: I'm not a hard core gamer, but once in a while on a train or a plane I like to play a game or two.

This is sort of how I feel about my PS3 in the living room. I bought the device initially as more of a blu-ray player, but then I convinced myself to buy a game or two, and I received one or two as a gift. For the most part I might play each game a couple of hours, but that's pretty much as far as it goes. I bought Grand Theft Auto IV, for example, because the reviews said the game was amazing, but I never really got into it. I played for an hour or two and since then it's been collecting dust on my shelf. The most fun I have with my PS3 is when I play with others. I think there are a lot of casual gamers like me out there, although most of them bought the Wii. Looking at the tie rate (average number of games sold per console) we see that XBox 360 owners buy more games per console than the Wii and PS3.

And this is where I think the Apple TV might come in. Imagine if Apple makes it easy to develop games for on the Apple TV, and deploy them through the app store. Casual gamers might think twice about buying that PS3 or Wii and pick up an Apple TV instead. After all, like the iPod Touch, if games are just one of the things you do with your set top box, maybe it makes more sense to invest in the thing that does the rest better? Users might buy these instead of other consoles, and just have fewer devices connected. Apple might sell it as a device to get existing content to your TV, but perhaps the ecosystem will make gaming the killer app.

If I were at Nintendo (especially, since they are the casual gaming console) I would be up worrying right about now.