What I’m about to say is undoubtedly going to piss some of you off. And that’s fine. Because in a few years, I’ll be right and you’ll look silly.
While everyone is focused on the next generation video game consoles from Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft — the latter two of which should be coming later this year — Apple is going to dominate them all. And it won’t even be that difficult.
Now, it’s not like this is a completely insane notion. Anyone who has been following the smartphone space for the past few years knows that Apple has sort of backed into video game dominance by way of their iOS devices. Apple has sold over 500 million of them. These devices have yielded over 40 billion downloads of the over 800,000 apps. And a large portion of those apps are games.
To put that in perspective, Microsoft has sold roughly 75 million Xbox 360s worldwide — and that product launched over seven years ago. The iPhone — the first iOS device — launched five and a half years ago. And there were no third-party games until a year after that.
Sony’s sales for the PS3 are nearly identical to the Microsoft numbers (it just took the worldwide lead from the 360). Nintendo has sold roughly 100 million Wiis since it went on sale just over six years ago. They have also sold about 150 million handheld DSes since 2004 (if you add all the varieties together).
Even if you lump together the Xbox 360, the Playstation 3, the Wii, and the Nintendo DS, Apple has still sold about 100 million more iOS devices than all of those systems combined. And again, in a much shorter span.
Perhaps because the iOS devices are multi-purpose devices, you don’t see a lot of comparisons between something like the iPad and the Xbox/Playstation/Wii. Those are video game consoles, you see. Totally different, they say.
Not for long, I say.
A couple days ago, Nat Brown, one of the founders of the Xbox team within Microsoft, took to his blog to absolutely destroy the current state of that product. His entire critique is worth the read, but one thing in particular stuck out to me:
Apple, if it chooses to do so, will simply kill Playstation, Wii-U and xBox by introducing an open 30%-cut app/game ecosystem for Apple-TV. I already make a lot of money on iOS – I will be the first to write apps for Apple-TV when I can, and I know I’ll make money.
Yes, a creator of the Xbox is basically begging Apple to give us an Apple TV SDK so that he can write games for it. And that’s exactly what they’re going to do.
The rumor that Apple would unveil some sort of Apple TV SDK at an event next month turned out to be bogus (as most things analysts say about Apple prove to be). But that doesn’t mean it’s not coming. In fact, I’d bet on it sooner rather than later.
I haven’t heard anything specific about the SDK, but the chatter about Apple’s broader television plans has been picking up. And if that chatter is to believed, something is happening this fall — likely late fall. As always with Apple, those plans are subject to change (and, in fact, have changed a few times in the past — see: “Project Sphere”). As you might imagine, content deals remain a bitch, yet remain vital to such a project. But multiple sources suggest everything is finally lining up for this fall.
It’s not entirely clear if this means an actual television itself or some other sort of newfangled Apple TV device.
But it actually doesn’t matter. Apps are the key.
So if you believe that Apple’s living room plans are going to come into focus this fall, you should probably also be ready for some sort of developer announcement in the months leading up to the fall. Maybe that comes at WWDC. Maybe later.
Sure, it is possible that Apple could launch some sort of new TV-centric hardware with only a few apps built closely with a handful of selected partners. But that would be a bit of a letdown — that’s essentially the Apple TV right now. People wants apps. Developers want to make apps. And apps are what will make or break Apple’s foray into the space.
We all know the current Apple TV is already running iOS (even if Apple dances around directly stating it). And we know that the Apple TV is running on the same type of hardware stack that iPhones/iPads/iPod touches run on. The thing is ready to go. All Apple has to do is flip a switch.
Okay, it’s not that simple, but you get the point. Right now, out in the wild, there are over 10 million Apple TVs — the majority of which are already capable of running iOS apps. Sure, they may look less than ideal scaled up to television screen sizes, but they’d work. You can already get a preview to some extent using AirPlay.
If I’m right that Apple will want to seed the app ecosystem before their big launch in the fall, I suspect they’ll have developers use the current Apple TVs to test such apps. Perhaps this has something to do with the recent pay-no-attention-to-the-man-behind-the-curtain upgrade.
And it’s entirely possible that Apple will take a larger two-pronged approach. That is, keeping a $99 Apple TV (which would be enabled to run apps) alongside any more robust television product.
This is all speculation, of course. But while everyone is busy focusing on the hardware, they’re looking past the obvious software advantage of anything Apple does in the living room. The 800,000 apps won’t translate directly, but in two categories in particular: video and video games, Apple is going to dominate where their rivals cannot simply because of the support of small, third-party app developers.
That’s why Nat Brown is so dead-on above. Microsoft and the rest had the opportunity to be first-movers here and they blew it. They focused on traditional game makers and traditional content providers. They focused on extending the traditional PC hardware paradigm. It’s going to be death by 100,000 apps.
(By the way, just to be clear, I’m not ruling out something like OUYA or another Android-based system coming into the space to shake it up as well. But I believe controlling the hardware and software experience will be important, just as it is in the other hot devices right now.)
When I talk about this, people mistakenly think I’m saying that games like Call of Duty are going away. Of course they’re not. These types of hardcore games clearly have their audience and will continue to do very well. I simply believe two things:
1) That the Apple TV is already nearly powerful enough to run such games. Perhaps not the highest of the high end, but give it a year or two. That’s the thing: Apple will likely push yearly hardware (and software) updates for anything they do. Microsoft has not updated the Xbox in over 7 years. Huge mistake.
2) That the audience for non-hardcore games when Apple opens up an Apple TV SDK will be much larger than the audience for the hardcore games.
Apple will not win this space by playing the game that Microsoft, Sony, and to some extent, Nintendo, are playing. They will win by changing the rules of the game. And that game is all about developers, developers, developers, developers. Which is perhaps the most delicious twist one could ever imagine.