Can Apple topple the console market?

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Will the software and hardware giant beat Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo in the home console market with its new Apple TV?

Can Apple topple the console market?The next round of competition to Sony’s unshakable PS4 and Microsoft’s underdog Xbox One isn’t going to come in the form of Nintendo’s mysterious new NX platform. Instead, it looks like Apple has come totally from the left-field and entered the console arms race, barging in on the market with the new Apple TV hardware.

Thing is, the new Apple TV isn’t all about gaming – it’s a device intended more for streaming music and TV, like the older Apple TV models. The gaming capabilities are totally peripheral to the hardware’s main function. So how could Apple dethrone the Big Three when Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo have made a point of targeting the living room for the last few generations? Can Apple simply waltz in and undermine all that hard work with a device that’s meant, for all intents and purposes, for the casual market?

“The Apple TV’s gaming functions look like they’re aimed a lot more at the Wii than the Playstation or Xbox,” explains tech analyst Jan Dawson (on behalf of Jackdaw). “Apple is probably only a serious threat at this point to Nintendo, because it’s not going to be going after the hardcore gaming market that Sony and Microsoft serve. If I were Nintendo, I’d be thinking very hard about developing games for the Apple TV at this point.”

Interestingly enough, the day following Apple TV’s announcement, Nintendo took to social media to unveil its first true mobile endeavour – Pokémon GO, a GPS-enabled augmented reality MMO that turns anyone with a smartphone into a wandering Pokémon trainer. Though it’s not aimed directly at Apple TV, the game shows a willingness from Nintendo to adapt to the new market, something the company has traditionally been reluctant to do. This step out into compatibility with Apple is a watershed moment, a statement of intent from Nintendo. So is it possible for Apple to topple the other two? Maybe it doesn’t need to, maybe the casual market itself is so big that Apple will become the de facto home console and Microsoft and Sony will become the niche – despite those multi-million sales figures for each console.

“I think the mainstream gaming community now is the casual gaming community, and that’s a much larger base of gamers than hardcore gamers,” explains Dawson. “Apple is straying a little beyond the casual gaming market with some of the launch titles, but the reality is that the Apple TV is likely underpowered to really compete for hardcore gamers, and I don’t think that’s the market Apple is going after.”

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The fact that Apple is already an internationally recognised brand with widely accepted market dominance sets up a potential Apple console well – after all, who wouldn’t buy a console they’d already own music, games and TV on? “Apple’s existing base of iOS gamers and developers is absolutely critical to the success of the Apple TV. Bringing both those users and developers over from iPhone and iPad gaming is a central part of the strategy here. And I bet you’ll see a lot of the same games make their way across,” says Dawson.

We’ve already seen commercial/critical success Transistor announced for the platform, as well as Activision’s new Guitar Hero Live platform. They’re ports, but that doesn’t mean Apple isn’t diverting resources to create unique games for the TV, too – Harmonix (you know, the Rock Band developer) is creating a bespoke game for the Apple TV, called Beat Sports.

And that’s not all – Apple’s TV release also drives another nail into Amazon’s multi-faceted approach to media delivery: the long-term Apple rival has been slow out of the door with its Amazon Fire TV (supported by the much-hyped but incredibly quiet Amazon Game Studios), and now Apple has undercut the business model… well, it could kill Amazon’s attempt at a home console before it even launches.

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“Amazon’s biggest problem is that very few developers today develop for Amazon explicitly – it’s often an afterthought or a bit of additional work after developing for Android, which is obviously a much bigger platform than Amazon’s,” explains Dawson.” So even when Amazon gets its act together on its Studios project, I don’t think that’s going to make a meaningful difference. And at the same time, one of the big advantages of Amazon Fire TV [was] that it had content the Apple TV didn’t, including from Amazon itself, and I’m betting that will change now, making it even less attractive.”

It remains to be seen how exactly Apple is going to approach the console portion of its TV. So far, the company has been suspiciously quiet about games integration, but maybe this is a stealth operation: wait until everyone’s got an Apple TV in their homes, then deliver a payload of exclusive, platform-specific games to a whole new audience that never really considered themselves gamers before. Which – despite the potential cost to Amazon and Nintendo – we can’t help but think will benefit the greater games industry itself.

For some classic console gaming knowledge you should read the Videogames Hardware Handbook, available to buy now!

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