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Friday, May 08, 2009

The Case For An Apple Console

BNet details a pretty sound argument that Apple is cooking up something new, and recent rumors of an EA purchase help fuel the idea that the something new is at least some kind of a gaming console. Check out TUAW's take on it as well.

Something to factor in here: Gaming has been enormously profitable on the iPhone/iPod Touch - for Apple, big companies like EA and even some indie developers. Super Monkey Ball, a high visibility launch title, was a quick financial success for Sega.

Tan readers will remember we have discussed this before, although much of my argument was more on the basis that the Mac Mini could be a living room front for Apple (that was before the AppleTV was launched).

Many of the arguments remain the same, however. Nintendo more or less rules the living room right now and Sony and Microsoft are slugging it out like the juggernauts they are. As when it was rumored Sega would re-enter the hardware market, it is a very tight space to fit into.

At the same time, I don't think many people would have thought the iPhone to be such a DS competitor when it launched either. BNet's findings swarm around the combination of media and games. Apple has loved media for some time now, and now they also have a healthy appetite for games as well.

Also, it's been mumbled for some time that the Mac Mini was never a favorite of Steve Jobs and it exists mostly to fulfill the need for a low-end market. If Apple releases a netbook, that would also replace that need. Don't get me wrong, I love my Mac Mini to death - but if there's any truth to this rumor, I wouldn't expect the Mini, the AppleTV and a console to all share the same shelf space.

Let's remember - Apple is sneaky. They fight the battles they want to fight and it doesn't seem very Apple-like to replicate the Xbox strategy and take the gaming industry head on. Apple is very, very good at leveraging their existing assets. Looking it at that way, the path of least resistance is probably the AppleTV itself (which might, hopefully, spare the Mini). Apple will want a device which accesses iTunes for media, as the AppleTV does now - but potentially can also get games in the same style of the App Store.

It's a pretty short path. Add some decent GPU hardware to the AppleTV, design a controller that meets Apple standards, and open a new category to the App Store. AppleTV gaming - in your living room. They wouldn't necessarily being going after Nintendo's turf ... they can rely on the Cult of Mac to get things started.

It's not a huge risk for Apple. It adds a new platform for developers to sell games on, and hence another stream of App Store based revenue. If Apple bought EA, they would be insured a flock of quality first party titles. Even if they didn't, they already have good relationships with studios from the iPhone.

The case is looking pretty strong. This could be a very interesting E3.


Erik Sherman said...

Thanks for the link to my BNET piece. I'm actually skeptical that Apple would be interested in buying EA. For one, the company is harnessed to the PC platform. Can you imagine Apple actively bringing on lines of business that require Windows? Second, there are a number of game developers already working on the iPhone. Why not just acquire some of them? Third, EA is very messed up right now in terms of management and its strategy, and that would painfully complicate an acquisition.

Josh said...

Thanks for the great article.

I would generally concur about EA. It seems logical that Apple would want a strong first/second party developer, but there is just so much baggage attached to it. And I had a similar thought - why not get Sega instead?

Plus, it's the OS X platform starving for games ... not the iPhone/Touch. And somehow I don't see Apple buying EA just so that I could have Madden on my Macbook...

sterno said...

I think a lot of the EA rumor depends on what Apple's looking to accomplish. If they want to compete with Microsoft and Sony in that space, then EA makes perfect sense because they have a large stable of potential platform exclusives. They've already got a relationship with EA getting lots of games ported to the Mac, so there might be something to this.

However, a simpler and perhaps more cost effective approach would be to just take the AppleTV, throw in a better graphics accelerator, and put together a controller and compete against the Wii in the more casual market.

What's nice for Apple is that they have all the pieces to do this right already. They've got the hardware. They've got the SDK's. They've got the developer base from the iPhone. They've got experience running networked services with MobileMe. They've got a far more refined online store front than anybody else.

Kimberly said...

I tend to agree with sterno on this one