"There has been speculation for years that the Apple TV would get games at some point, and I've even said that this would happen in two to three years. Well, I now think it'll happen before the end of the year for the following reasons:
- Apple has said that they will enter a new product category this year."
I think it's a bit less clear that Tim Cook meant this as a 2013 thing. John Gruber is also refuting this idea, so let's leave this aside for now.
- "The iPhone 5S just got 64 bit processor. That same processor would work great in an Apple TV which played games and it could even address 8GB of ram just like the new consoles from the other players in the market."
It's true that the A7 is a pretty kick-ass chip. However, let's consider a hypothetical A7-powered Apple TV, with 8GB of RAM. If Apple were to produce such a box, paired with a game controller, I think that people would want to play AAA games, such as "Call of Duty", "NBA2K14", "Need For Speed", etc. In order to have graphics that compete with the upcoming PS4 and Xbox One, these games will need a strong GPU (for rendering graphics at 1080p), as well as tons of RAM (as Gus has speculated above). But these AAA games are also massive, requiring 8 - 30GB of storage per title.
Now, let's turn back to Apple TV. For $100, the current Apple TV consists of a single-core A5 CPU, 512MB of RAM, and 8GB of flash storage. In order to turn this machine into an competitive gaming console, Apple would have to up the CPU to an A7 (probably relatively cheap), up the RAM to 8GB (much less cheap), and dramatically increase the storage. I think that they need to be able to hold at least 2 games on the device, which is at least 60GB of storage. Doing that as flash would add significant expense. Apple could go with a hard drive, which would actually be better (then you could store lots of games on the device), but would still be expensive, and also increase the size of the machine. When you add all of this up, I think you're talking about a machine that is at least $250 at retail, maybe even $300 (and that's not including a controller!). Which is far out of $100 impulse buy territory, and into the same pricing territory as the Wii U, and only $100 cheaper than the PS4.
This new Apple TV is starting to look fairly compromised (expensive, bulky), for something that Apple really intends to be an extension of iTunes.
While it's true that Apple TV runs iOS, that iOS 7 supports bluetooth game controllers, and that modern Apple TV's also have bluetooth, there are a still a few problems. The first is that Apple TV doesn't run iOS 7, it appear to be running a custom fork of iOS 6.1. Of course Apple could upgrade this fork to include the relevant gaming bits of iOS 7, but this would be more work for an already taxed engineering team. In addition, according to the "Game Controller Programming Guide", the controllers are optional:
- "We've now got game controller support for iOS devices."
"If you write a game that supports controllers, there must also be a way to play the game without a controller. On an iOS device, that means taking advantage of the touch screen and the integrated sensors in the device. On OS X, this usually means an interface based on the keyboard and mouse. Either way, controllers must enhance gameplay—they must not be required."
Now, I'm sure Apple could change their just-release specification for a hypothetical gaming-capable Apple TV. But how would game designers work with these constraints? Requiring games to be designed for both touch and gamepad controls, would be a huge limitation for games that run on the Apple TV. Well, unless the Apple TV also had a touch screen. But that's a totally different rathole of speculation (and Wii U comparisons).
Now, turning back to Gus, he concludes:
"But you know what I think is really interesting? iOS 7 shipped last week and no game controller hardware was to be found. And the manufacturers have known for months that this was coming and certainly have had prototypes in the works for that long as well.
It seems to me that if you were making a game controller you would want have it available on the day iOS 7 shipped. Unless of course you weren't allowed to ship it yet for some reason. Maybe, just maybe… what if Apple said you had to wait to show it off with some awesome new unannounced hardware? Is that why we haven't seen any controllers yet?"
I strongly agree with Gus here — I believe that Apple is holding back the release of iOS 7-compatible game controllers. But I disagree with Gus's reasoning. I think that Apple wants to devote serious demo time to gaming on iOS 7, but they want the demos to be on iPhone, iPod touch, and on the new iPads, which haven't been announced yet. The new controllers will also be compatible with Mac OS X 10.9 "Mavericks", which isn't released yet. So my guess is that Apple will spend a significant amount of time in the October 22nd event, showing of the state of controller-based gaming in Apple's ecosystem, running across their entire range of products, except for Apple TV.
Now, I don't want to say that a gaming-optimized Apple TV is impossible. I just feel pretty strongly that this isn't a 2013 thing. If game controller support takes off on iOS (and Mac OS!), and becomes something that's really popular, then I think Apple will be far more inclined to move this to Apple TV. So, let's talk about this again this time, next year.