With a major update for its TV, Apple is making a big push into the console gaming market for the first time since its ill-fated Pippin
For years, Apple has labelled its media-streaming box, Apple TV, a mere “hobby”. The company has resisted the temptation to jump head-first into trying to revolutionise the television industry, instead tentatively offering an easy-to-use, yet somewhat limited, streaming box that connects to its other services.
However, in September, the company unveiled a long-overdue update to the product that it hoped would be its first step in transforming the way people watch television, in much the same way that it radically overhauled the mobile phone and digital music markets. But while television was the centrepiece of the new platform, it is the software capabilities of the service that offer the greatest potential for an entrance into a whole new market: gaming.
Cost of a Pippin
Cost of an N64
A revolutionary Apple television set has long been rumoured, with Steve Jobs claiming to have “cracked” the concept before he passed away in 2011. However, the company has failed to release anything remarkable, instead offering minor updates to the software the Apple TV uses.
While the latest iteration of the box is not a fully-fledged television set, it is a significant upgrade on previous models as it opens up the platform to third parties. The inclusion of the App Store seems like a logical progression for the platform, but it is the sort of apps that can now be used on the Apple TV that has got analysts most excited.
Announcing the new Apple TV, the company’s Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, said: “There has been so much innovation in entertainment and programming through iOS apps, we want to bring that same excitement to the television. Apps make the TV experience even more compelling for viewers and we think apps represent the future of TV.”
The ability to download games onto the Apple TV transforms the box into a gaming console, opening up a whole new revenue stream for Apple. It also places the company in a market that is hugely lucrative, and one it hasn’t ventured into for almost two decades.
Pippin long story
This isn’t the first time Apple has attempted to crack this extremely competitive market. In 1995, spurred on by the huge revenues and customer numbers the likes of Nintendo and Sega had secured from game consoles, Apple unveiled its Pippin gaming box. The Pippin was designed as an open-source gaming platform, with toy manufacturer Bandai constructing the box.
While it looked very similar to the sort of game consoles Nintendo, Sega and Sony were producing, the Pippin was actually designed to be a simplified version of the company’s desktop computers that could be used for “general purposes”. However, the Pippin failed to capture the imagination of the gaming community; it was priced considerably higher than its competitors – it cost around $600, whereas Nintendo’s popular N64 was a mere $200 – and failed to offer the breadth of gaming content others had built up over years.
Bandai manufactured 100,000 Pippins, but only managed to sell 42,000 before discontinuing the console. Eventually Steve Jobs, upon his return to Apple in 1997, scrapped all work on the Pippin. Many saw the console as the nadir of Apple’s troubled years, representing the biggest example of the company trying to spread itself far too thinly across a number of different markets it wasn’t familiar with.
The Pippin ultimately joined the ranks of other Apple products that failed to make a dent in their target markets. Others included the Newton PDA (which some see as precursor to the iPad) and the 20th Anniversary Mac that debuted in 1997 at a cost of nearly $10,000. When Jobs returned, he brought with him a focus and purpose that had left the company in the years since his departure.
Gap in the market
While Apple has failed in the past to make a success of the home gaming market, conditions now appear to be considerably more favourable. Sony’s latest console, the PS4, has stormed ahead of Microsoft’s Xbox One in the hearts of the most dedicated, hardcore gamers, but there remains a space for less intensive games that was once occupied by Nintendo. Its Wii platform proved popular with families and people who previously wouldn’t normally play video games, but, in recent years, Nintendo has struggled to release a compelling new console: its 2012 Wii U failed to get the same sort of reception its predecessor, 2006’s Wii, had enjoyed.
Nintendo has even announced plans to offer its highly coveted – and exclusive – games to other platforms for the first time in its history. Many of these popular titles will be available on platforms such as Apple’s iOS, but could even make it to rival consoles. This signifies a potential retreat from the console market by Nintendo – a market it rescued from the dead in the 1980s – similar to that executed by one-time rival Sega in the early 2000s. This could pave the way for Apple to dominate the lower-end of the console market.
The explosion in the number of people playing simple games on their mobile devices – many of which are made by Apple – is what the company is looking to transfer to its new television platform. Many of those popular iOS games will be easily transferable to the new tvOS platform.
Apple’s move into the gaming market with the new Apple TV could shake up an industry currently dominated by Sony and Microsoft, attracting casual gamers scared off by complex console gaming. By combining the company’s existing iOS App Store – and the many games on it – with a much larger screen and motion control, Apple could dominate the living room in a way that it hasn’t quite managed so far.
If it is to achieve this, the company needs to ensure games aren’t simply scaled up versions of their iOS counterparts, but distinct and compelling ones that are designed specifically for the bigger screen.
Avoiding the pitfalls of its failed Pippin experiment from 20 years ago shouldn’t be too difficult; the company is a very different one to the panicked, unfocused firm that seemed desperate to enter markets it wasn’t suited to. However, it must still be cautious; Apple is entering a market that is already well stocked with dominant players that will be determined not to lose any market share.