Why I’m not holding my breath for Apple’s rumored gaming Mac

Why I’m not holding my breath for Apple’s rumored gaming Mac [Opinion]


Can Apple reinvent the Mac as a gaming powerhouse?
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

Apple is reportedly working on a new “gaming-focused” Mac that it will unveil at WWDC, a sketchy new rumor claims.

This machine would cost up to $5,000 and be a Mac rival to gaming PCs. It would take aim at the fast growing “e-sports” market, which Apple has not previously catered to. Could such a machine turn Apple into a gaming powerhouse? Anything’s possible, I guess. But I’ll only believe it when I see it.

According to the rumor (via Patently Apple), the supposed gaming Mac could be a large-screen all-in-one (AIO) computer or a large-screen gaming laptop. Details aren’t yet clear. However, Apple will supposedly announce it in June 2020 at its World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). At least, so the theory goes!

Apple’s history of gaming

Apple does not have a great history when it comes to gaming. While many older gamers got their start on the Apple II, by the time the 1990s were underway things were swinging hard in the direction of PCs over Macs. That’s despite the fact that Macs frequently had technical capabilities, whether multimedia or networking, that went far beyond what was achievable on a PC.

The presence of game-changers like Doom on PC only cemented this shift. In recent years, fans of AAA titles have had to rely on Boot Camp to get their fix. Or, more realistically, buy a PC. Top games arrive late on Mac. And graphics cards really aren’t Apple’s bag, baby! Simply put: No-one buys a Mac to game.

The last time that Apple built a dedicated computer for gaming it was the 1990s. Well, it kind of built it. And it was kind of a computer. 1996’s Pippin (named after a cultivar of Apple) was Apple’s attempt at entering a new market at a time when hardware sales were shrinking.

The idea was to bring in more software revenue in a growing area. To do this, Apple teamed up with Japanese toymaker Bandai to develop a games console. A tech giant (yes, even in the 1990s Apple counted) getting into the video games market with a CD ROM-based games console wasn’t crazy. In 1994, Sony debuted its first-gen PlayStation games console. You don’t need me to remind you that Sony did quite well out of that decision.

Apple, on the other hand, didn’t. It offered just 23 titles in total. These were a combination of subpar games (the bestselling one was the disappointing Power Rangers Zeo vs. The Machine Empire) and educational titles. It wasn’t a serious enough console to challenge the might of the PlayStation, N64 or Sega Saturn. Nor was it a low-cost computer people could use for, well, computing.

Pippin was projected to sell 500,000 units in its first year. In the end, just 42,000 units were sold out of 100,000 built. Steve Jobs metaphorically stomped on it when he returned to Apple in 1997.

Too expensive. Not enough games.
Photo: All About Apple

Gaming on mobile

Where gaming has flourished for Apple fans is in the mobile space. Indie developers have done well out of the App Store, where iOS users spend more money than Android users. The majority of top grossing apps in the App Store are games. Some of them are very good indeed. Games like Monument Valley stand as high watermarks of mobile gaming quality.

Meanwhile, Nintendo has ventured onto iOS. Although I’d question the quality of Mario Kart Tour, it’s been a big financial success.

Performance on these mobile devices is great, too. You can play Fortnite on an iPad with 1080p graphics at 60 frames-per-second. That’s the same performance you’d get from a PS4 and a mid-range gaming PC.

In recent years, Apple has only increased its focus on mobile gaming. Games were singled out as a use case for the Apple TV, starting with the redesigned fourth-gen model. But the Siri controller is disappointingly poor for playing games. Apple Arcade is the biggest shift in the direction of gaming. Offering 100+ new iOS titles for just $4.99 per month, it’s proof positive that Apple is willing to jump into game distribution in a big way.

Apple the new gaming giant?

What is being suggested in this gaming Mac rumor is different, though. People who buy a games PC are not necessarily the same people who while away a few minutes gaming on their iPhone. They’re not even the same people who pay $5 a month to do that. While there is a crossover, mobile games are typically viewed as appealing to more casual gamers. The big AAA titles don’t appear with any regularity on mobile.

But while games may be booming on mobile, making the Mac a gaming powerhouse isn’t going to be easy. Hardware is only one part of the problem. In terms of tech specs, this is the best game-loving Mac users have had it for a while. The new Mac Pro could be a decent gaming PC in the right configuration. You can also now buy plug-in external GPUs for your Mac, although these aren’t cheap.

There’s some optimism to be had in the fact that Apple’s moving away from its obsession with building ultra-thin devices. That could suggest Macs with bigger and better graphics cards on the horizon — though that’s not guaranteed by any means. On top of this, there are promising rumors about Apple switching from Intel to ARM.

Perhaps the biggest impediment, as was the case with the Pippin, is developer support. Apple might be the biggest tech company out there, but most of the top games remain Windows only. Mac is still a tiny, tiny fraction of the overall operating system market share. The number of Mac users with Macs capable of playing these top AAA titles is even more miniscule. Porting these games to Mac is simply an investment of resources many developers don’t think is worth it — and it’s hard to blame them.

Apple Arcade adds PvP Pac-man and baseball games
Apple Arcade is an attempt to take mobile gaming to the next level.
Photo: Apple

What’s the answer?

What’s the answer? The popularity of cloud-based gaming services like Google Stradia could be one of them. A renewed focus on upgradable gaming-focused hardware could be another. If Apple was to pursue an exclusives-focused approach like Apple TV+ or Apple Music, that could be one more.

Many companies have done well by hammering out exclusive deals for new in-demand content. If a game was desirable enough, and only available on Mac, players would have little choice but to play it on Mac or not at all.

None of this is as straightforward as just building a new Mac with a gaming-focused GPU, however. For that reason, I’m skeptical about this gaming Mac rumor. Do I think it’s something some folks inside Apple would love? You bet. Do I think Apple will release one? It’s possible. Is it going to make Apple a (no pun intended) player in the games field overnight? No way.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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