Apple’s product portfolio is crying out for something new. Fans and investors are itching to see where the company will go next, and whether it can revolutionize yet another industry. Should a games console be top of its list?
Some fans may not know this, but Apple has produced a console before. It wasn’t too successful, but Apple is a different company now, and it’s already serving hundreds of millions of avid gamers with its Apple TV and iOS devices. In some ways, a console makes a lot of sense.
But could Apple really topple the PlayStation or Xbox? Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we battle it out over whether Apple should build its own console!
Luke Dormehl: This week I wrote about Apple’s (well, technically Bandai’s) ill-fated Pippin console: a games machine Apple helped design in the mid-1990s which, like so many of Apple’s out-of-the-box 1990s concepts, failed to get off the ground. Writing it made me think about the gaming disappointment that has been Apple TV: a platform that was supposedly designed with games in mind. Of course, jump forwards to the present day and it hasn’t become a games device at all. In fact, it’s hard to think of one “must have” game that has appeared on Apple TV, which isn’t also available (and probably better) on another Apple device.
What’s frustrating in both of these cases is that Apple’s got everything it takes to be a great platform for gamers. Back in the 1980s it was exactly that with the Apple II. Today, iOS is a tremendous platform for gaming, and Apple is good at nurturing developer relationships. There are some brilliant games available in the App Store, and hearing Shigeru Miyamoto talk about the philosophy behind Super Mario Run it’s pretty obvious Nintendo and Apple are aligned in a lot of ways. So is it time for Apple to embrace gaming?
Sony obviously has a 20-year advantage in terms of games consoles, Microsoft has a 15-year-advantage and Nintendo has… well, a whole lot more than both of them put together, but I really think Apple could do some great stuff in this area. It’s certainly got the resources to do something spectacular — and, let’s face it, of the lateral moves it’s made as a company jumping from one industry to another, this is nowhere near as unprecedented as launching a music store, building a music player or making a phone.
Can you honestly tell me you wouldn’t be a bit excited about an Apple console? It certainly sounds more feasible than an Apple car.
Killian Bell: I agree that an Apple console seems more feasible than a car, and I do think there are some reasons why it would make sense. Apple obviously makes stellar hardware, and it has a knack for making powerful chips that would be ideal for gaming consoles. But there are lots of other reasons why I believe it would be a stupid move.
As Nintendo learned with the Wii U, it’s immensely difficult to compete with the PlayStation and the Xbox these days — even if you bring something unique to the table. I can’t think of anything Apple could do that would persuade gamers to choose an Apple console over new devices from Sony and Microsoft, which already know what they’re doing.
Also, while iOS is a great platform for casual games, it’s not ideal for more serious gaming — the kind most people buy a PlayStation or Xbox for. The disaster that is Game Center proves most iOS users are just playing games to pass the time, and the success of titles like Candy Crush and Clash of Clans and many others backs that up.
What kind of console do you imagine Apple should make?
Luke: I realize that Apple has a lot of catching up to do, but it seems like this is one area that Apple could genuinely contribute something. Even if you’re a fan of, for instance, the Apple Watch, I don’t think too many people were crying out for one. It was Apple inventing an (elegant) solution for a problem a lot of people didn’t have, and it’s still in the early adopter process of figuring out what that audience is.
But you only have to look at the opening day of almost server-crashing Super Mario Run or Pokemon Go enthusiasm to see that there is tremendous demand when it comes to gaming from Apple customers. Personally, I think a set-top box which actually delivered on the gaming promise of the Apple TV would be massive. In the same way that shows like House of Cards sell Netflix subscriptions, a really great game could definitely help drive hardware sales of something like the Apple TV. Of course, now we’re getting into fantasy football type “Apple could buy Rockstar Games”-type thinking, but games certainly seem a market Apple could do very well in. And has really, really ignored for years now.
Killian: Like I said, Apple can’t compete with Sony and Microsoft in this area, and it would be stupid to even try. It has nothing to bring to the table, and it isn’t going to revolutionize the console business.
The reason why those games are so successful is because so many people already own iOS devices, and they’re casual games. They’re perfect for iOS. They’re not the kind of games people buy consoles for, though. Games like Super Mario Run are nowhere near as successful on PlayStation, Xbox, or even Nintendo’s own consoles.
I’m glad you brought up the Apple TV. Where would an Apple console leave the Apple TV? Would Apple continue to offer its set-top box with tvOS and the games that come with it, plus a dedicated console with its own OS and games? Or would the Apple TV become the console, which would ramp up prices and push out those who just wanted it for TV? Neither option makes much sense.
I don’t think Apple cares about games enough to make a successful console. It just so happens that iOS is a great platform for casual games because people like to play games on smartphones and tablets.
The other issue is that Apple is already spreading itself too thin. You’ve argued in many Friday Night Fights that it needs to streamline its portfolio because it has its fingers in too many pies, and offers too many products. Even the iPhone, Apple’s most successful product, seems to have been neglected in recent years while the company focuses on other things.
Adding a console into the mix only exacerbates things.
Luke: I do agree that there’s a risk of that. But, to me, the problem is that Apple is focusing on a lot of unnecessary things. Do we need a new macOS or iOS paint job every year? No. Do we need $300 books? In some ways, it’s difficult to know what Apple doesn’t have the bandwidth for and what it’s just ignoring — like Macs, Apple TV, iCloud, FaceTime and numerous other areas it could massively improve on.
I don’t think Apple’s current TV strategy is working at all. Personally, I’d pay a lot more for a service which offered something you can’t get elsewhere. We were promised essential apps, the glimmer of original Apple programming and, as mentioned, games. I don’t see why Apple couldn’t launch a pricier Apple TV games console. Who knows? They could lower the price by making it part of a subscription service, a la your subsidized iPhone.
Again, I don’t see a reason why Apple couldn’t compete with a company like Nintendo, if that was the more gimmick-focused, family-friendly end of the market it chose to focus on. (And I don’t think it would necessarily have to be limited to that!) Again, it’s easy to forget that Sony and Microsoft both entered the gaming market at similarly challenging times: Sony at the tail-end of the SEGA vs. Nintendo wars and Microsoft at a time when Sony had just beaten SEGA. If this was an area Apple was happy to push into, I don’t think there would be anything to stop them offering a compelling alternative for gamers. It certainly makes more sense than $3 billion on Beats.
So do you think Apple is doing enough to capitalize on its gaming popularity then?
Killian: I think a console would be another unnecessary thing. As I keep saying, Apple will never beat the PlayStation or the Xbox, so it would be a waste of time. It’s not just building a better console, either; it’s convincing game developers to produce titles for that platform. One of the things that killed the Wii U is that developers just weren’t interesting in making games for it.
The other thing we should consider here is that Sony and Microsoft sell their consoles at a loss. They make their money through licensing deals with game makers, and by producing their own titles. Apple would have to do the same, and I don’t think it would be raking in enough to make the whole thing worthwhile unless it charged developers the same 30 percent fee it charges for iOS games, and that’s not going to persuade anyone to support its console.
Why would Apple want to compete with Nintendo? The Wii U was a flop, and if it wasn’t for the success of the Nintendo 3DS and the fact that Nintendo has so many of its own beloved franchises, it would probably be dead now. The Switch certainly looks promising, but again, it has to compete with the PS4 Pro, the Xbox One S, and whatever Sony and Microsoft deliver next. That’s an incredibly difficult task — even for Nintendo.
I think Apple is doing enough with iOS and tvOS, yes. It’s serving casual gamers just fine and making a lot of money on insanely successful games by taking a 30 percent cut. iOS is great for casual gaming on the go. tvOS is great for taking those games into the living room. I certainly think macOS could be better for gamers, but it’s probably too late to focus on that now.
Apple was able to revolutionize smartphones and music players and tablets because those industries were ripe for an overhaul. But consoles aren’t. Existing devices are great and getting better all the time, and console sales are still incredibly healthy.
Let’s hand this one over to the readers now. Do you think Apple should take on the PlayStation and Xbox with a console of its own?
Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?