As Apple takes the stage today to unveil (among other things) a new iteration of the Apple TV, there is no doubt that they are aiming to place themselves at the center of your living room’s entertainment center. It will be your one-stop device for streaming movies and TV, accessing web videos, and even controlling the lights.
But if you’re a gamer, you’re still going to need that separate console.
Although Apple TV will bring with it the App Center integration, unless the device shocks the world by seriously upgrading its specs, it will never really compete in the gaming space for two reasons: 1) It likely won’t be powerful enough to get into the ring with the likes of PlayStation 4’s deeply cinematic Until Dawn or Xbox One’s epic Rise of the Tomb Raider, especially when, for example, the PS4 is more like a high-end computer hooked up to your TV, boasting an eight-core x86 CPU and a graphics processor that deliver a combined 2 teraflops of performance. And 2) Its gaming library will consist–at least at first–primarily of the types of simplistic, repetitive games—think Angry Birds or Candy Crush—that are life-savers on boring commutes or long lines, but are not the kinds of games you’re going to fire up on a 60-inch HDTV in your living room. Apple has designs on improving its gaming capabilities–at their 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference, they announced the Metal API, a graphics and compute API geared toward iOS gaming development–but all the talk seems to be about enticing the “casual gamer,” which means offering fun and even some innovative gaming experiences but not the kind of immersive, hardcore experience that dominates the “true” gamer’s life.
Look at what they showed off today. Crossy Road, which is basically tag-team Frogger with a wider selection of animals and is precisely the kind of repetitive gaming experience that characterized the original gaming consoles–your Ataris and Intellivisions–because they were in turn modeled on coin-op games that were designed for the sole purpose of eating up quarters. In other words, fun for a few minutes, but not a full gaming experience. Same is true of Beat Sports, an odd hybrid of Guitar Hero and Wii Sports that promises a shallow, and baffling, gaming experience.
There were “blink and you missed it” mentions of Disney Infinity and Guitar Hero being offered on the Apple TV, but no discussion of specifics. How do you hook up the Infinity character base, for example? All in all, it seems like the Apple TV is aiming less at the PS4 and Xbox gamers and more at the Wii U crowd, which is hardly a high bar. The Wii U was launched in 2012. Two and a half years later, it still hadn’t sold 10 million units, a mark that the PlayStation hit in a mere nine months after its launch.
Besides, both the PS4 and the Xbox One stream Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu anyway–they may not have Apple TV’s Siri integration or clean, universal search functionality, but they are closer to a gamer’s idea of “one-stop entertainment” than the Apple TV will ever be. Being able to fire up Batman: Arkham Knight immediately after streaming Tim Burton’s Batman on Netflix is a lot cooler than watching Daredevil and then switching over to Fruit Ninja. Even with the motion-sensing controller (similar to the Nintendo Wii remote), gaming will be more of a novelty for the Apple TV than a driving force. Sure, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a PS4 ($150 vs. $400), but you get what you pay for.
The new incarnation will, however, likely still push Roku, Chromecast, and Amazon Fire TV aside by being more user-friendly and sleek (which is the Apple way). Since its debut in 2007, the Apple TV has not been a top seller and has fallen behind other streaming media devices, but a lot of the build up to today’s event has been around its more robust channel offerings and (perhaps) Apple’s own streaming network and original content. But that all remains to be seen…