Further to my previous post: I’m used to thinking of iOS devices (iPhone, iPad) as undermining the PC. From that perspective, my response as a developer is partly skewed by frustration at seeing relatively open platforms replaced by more closed ones.
Thinking about an iOS device as an alternative to the games console—the classic successful closed-system consumer computing product—makes an interesting change. But it’s a perspective in which my response is also skewed, this time by general affection for Nintendo in particular.
The best-selling console worldwide at the moment is Microsoft’s Xbox 360. It has been around for roughly 7 years, unusually long in console terms, and has so far sold about 70 million units. (That’s perhaps 30 million in total behind the Nintendo Wii, which sold far more in earlier years but has now almost stopped selling. I believe that Xbox 360 sales are now also falling, though I can’t remember where I read that.)
Meanwhile, the iPad has been available for about 2 years and has so far sold… about 70 million units. An interesting coincidence.
Historically, it seems to have been the case that that technically successful improvements to input devices in gaming—joystick, D-pad, motion controls, touch, motion tracking, arguably even the ability to provide your own CD as soundtrack in the original PlayStation—have prompted significant increases in popularity.
Meanwhile, improvements to output devices—most obviously 3D, but also things like resolution and frame rate increases—seem to appear incrementally and be largely ignored. (Anecdotally: whenever my kids play with a 3DS, the first thing they seem to do is switch off the 3D.)
The Wii, Xbox 360 and iPad have all carried improvements in input technology over earlier games devices, but as with any technology in gaming, their success depends entirely on their use in fun games. The initial success and later decline in the market of the Wii’s rather basic motion control is well documented (it’s all about Wii Sports, right?). Kinect, for the 360, has sold around 19 million units and is probably also slowing in sales: is the natural size of the market limited, or does it just lack worthwhile games?
So, what happens next?
I pretty much admitted in my previous post that I don’t know how you drive an Apple TV. I’ve never seen one in action.
I assume that a version with apps would need to be controlled from an external iOS device. (Apple execs have talked quite convincingly in the past about the disadvantages of a large vertical touchscreen.) I’m guessing that this logic might be one of the inspirations for Nintendo’s forthcoming Wii U, which looks quite like a Wii controlled by an external iPad-like controller.
It seems hard to imagine why many people would consider buying a dedicated games console when they can have a device like an Apple TV box that plays up-to-date games with minimal fuss, is regularly upgraded, and presumably is supported by major games companies because of the potentially huge market ahead of it.
But it all depends on the input device.
What sort of compelling big-screen games are made possible by a touchscreen controller? They can’t be the same as the current touchscreen games. Those won’t benefit from any extra distance between controller and screen.
I don’t think I believe that Apple would launch an interactive TV without some understanding of how games will work to their best advantage. Games are a big deal, both on the iPad and in existing home entertainment contexts. What don’t I know?