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Is the time right for GamePod?


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Is the time right for GamePod?
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Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
awesome
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Portland, OR
 
2019-07-26, 19:27

I've been thinking about Apple TV hardware, because right now Apple is pretty much de-emphasizing that. People have smart TVs now, so they don't need to buy a little puck to be the "brain." Apple's been emphasizing the Apple TV app, available on other smart TV platforms. But where does that leave tvOS, and the hardware that runs it? I don't think they'll just kill it. But I don't see how they can just keep making the same sort of hardware in the future and expect the same sales. I'm not sure selling a $150-200 streaming box makes sense any more, if it ever really did.

But there's one area where people are willing to still spend big money on brain boxes for their TV, and that's game consoles.

2020 is going to be a year of next-gen consoles, built on TSMC's 7nm (or maybe 7nm+, but that's looking unlikely) process. But the 7nm process is what Apple was using in its A12 and A12X last year. This year, they're using 7nm+. Next year, they'll be using TSMC's 5nm process.

That gives them the potential to deliver a real leapfrog product. If Apple wanted to, they could absolutely deliver next-gen caliber performance on a custom ARM chip. And since it's their own custom chip, and since it'd be one of the only things in the box, Apple could potentially sell this product at a disruptively low price. They don't have to pay AMD, they don't have to pay for a Blu-ray drive. I think it would cost significantly more than the current Apple TVs, which are kind of weird in-between products, but it could cost much less — potentially hundreds less — than the next-gen competition.

People have talked about an Apple game console forever, and I've always been a nay-sayer. Apple never really seemed to understand gaming or take it seriously (remember that felt-backed Game Center?). But now they're starting to. They're publishing dozens of games as part of Apple Arcade.

More importantly, this is really one of the only paths forward for Apple TV hardware that makes sense to me. There is essentially no market for $100-300 things that plug into your TV. Seriously, try to find one. All the Apple TV's completion — streaming boxes, streaming sticks, Blu-ray players — are under $100. Or free, if it's built into a smart TV. And the only other things that people plug into a TV, game consoles, start at around $300. Apple TV is in no man's land, right now.

I think Apple is going to have to choose a path for Apple TV hardware that's different from what they're doing now. Either cut the product to its core and deliver a cheaper stripped-down "Apple TV stick" that's just a streaming device for the people who don't have smart TVs yet, or make a product that does something that smart TVs don't: high-performance gaming. (These options aren't mutually exclusive, mind.)

A few years ago, Tim Cook described their breakthrough idea with tvOS as being that "the future of TV is apps." But, with the benefit of hindsight, I'm not sure that's true. People don't sit down at their TV to use apps, most people sit down at their TV to watch TV. People don't want to have to bounce between different streaming service apps — which is why Apple is now building other streaming services into its Apple TV app, as Apple TV Channels. People would like it if one app could have all their streaming video and they'd never have to leave it. That's very different than thinking the future of TV is being a platform for a bunch of apps.

But there are people who do like running a bunch of "apps" on their TV, and that's people who play video games. This is the only area an app-focused as opposed to content-focused view of TV makes sense to me, because with games, the "apps" are the content. It's not people having to deal with a bunch of silos for their shows, which nobody actually likes doing. Having a bunch of different apps is the point, with games, because each app is a different game. A UI that's a grid of apps actually makes sense for a game console.

If Apple wants to keep being a player in the TV hardware space, turning Apple TV into more of a focused game console is the move that makes sense to me. That's where the money is, and that's where hardware is going to continue to exist for at least a while longer without being obviated by smart TVs. Thoughts?

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong

Last edited by Robo : 2019-07-26 at 20:52.
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Luca
ಠ_ರೃ
 
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Minnesota
 
2019-08-01, 09:36

Aren't there already games for the Apple TV? What could a more powerful, gaming-focused box do that the regular Apple TV cannot?

It would have a hard time competing with the Switch. $300, usable both with a TV and handheld, has tons of third party games as well as all of Nintendo's first party stuff. And the Switch is getting a $200 handheld-only version very soon.

The Xbox One has a discless version (hilariously called the Xbox One S All Digital, or "SAD") with an MSRP of $250, and the regular One S is selling for just over $200. And for that you get a lot of power and a ton of popular games. The PS4 is also selling for $250. So really, to compete on price, Apple's console would need to be $250 at most, preferably lower. Not that Apple seems to be in the business of competing on price.

The most important thing is the software available. Mobile games are free or cheap with microtransactions. People who want to play mobile games can already do so on their phone so any Apple gaming box would need something to set it apart from phones. For one, it would need a real gamepad, and games designed around it, since most mobile games are designed for touch input.

PS4 and Switch have plenty of games exclusive to their platform. Xbox doesn't have nearly as many, but they have the best game subscription service and the lowest entry price. So what does it offer that a Switch, Xbox One, or PS4 doesn't? The answer, potentially, is enhanced versions of popular mobile games. Get a bunch of developers to sign on to make new versions of their popular games, controllable with a gamepad, while also getting at least a few AAA games from the major consoles. I don't think it can be one or the other, because if you want to play console games you'll just buy a console for $250, and if you want to play mobile games you already have your phone.

I don't think it would be successful, and I think if Apple were serious about entering the console space they would have done more with the Apple TV. But if they wanted to try, that's how I think they should do so.

The other option is completely the opposite, some sort of game streaming service like Google Stadia (minus the shitty pricing structure) and don't even bother with putting powerful hardware in people's homes.
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kscherer
The Ban Hammer
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Boyzeee
 
2019-08-01, 12:20

Quote:
Originally Posted by Luca View Post
What could a more powerful, gaming-focused box do that the regular Apple TV cannot?
I think "regular Apple TV" is the question. The current box is pretty powerful, but still well behind the capabilities of the A12x. As apple TV matures and gains a faster processor, more realistic gaming is the thing an upgraded model can do that the "regular Apple TV" cannot. However, there does not need to be a different box. "Regular Apple TV" just needs some processor upgrading and a larger case to deal with the heat.

Where Apple has the most to gain is through Apple Arcade. Subscription gaming could be the future of gaming. However, there are titles that exist that are up-front, very popular, and require a crap-ton of processing power to look good. Apple needs to bring the Apple TV up to speed if they want to attract that kind of development. Plus *controllers*, and damn the "has to work with Apple TV remote" crap!

So, there is room for growth, and Apple is very well poised to move into the space. It's just another part of the ecosystem where their users do not have to "bounce around" between services. Multiple devices, one account. Sign in one time, have access to all your stuff, and know that your privacy is being guarded.

Boise State! … Boise State! … Boise State!
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turtle
Lord of the Rant.
Formerly turtle2472
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Tidewater Virginia
 
2019-08-01, 14:02

Are Xbox and PS controllers being added to tvOS or just iOS? If so then there is a little gaming console in the Apple TV right there. Personally I would stick with an actual console, though the ability to have my games be on my phone, tablet and Apple TV would be pretty compelling as opposed to how it works now where my saves on Xbox don't carry over to my Windows machine, or any other device for that matter.

Louis L'Amour, “To make democracy work, we must be a notion of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.”
MineCraft? mc.applenova.com | Visit us! | Maybe someday I'll proof read, until then deal with it.
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kscherer
The Ban Hammer
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Boyzeee
 
2019-08-01, 14:03

I thought they were being added to tvOS.

Edit: Some linky stuff. Appears to support tvOS, iPadOS, and iOS.
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Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
awesome
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Portland, OR
 
2019-08-01, 23:07

Quote:
Originally Posted by Luca View Post
Aren't there already games for the Apple TV? What could a more powerful, gaming-focused box do that the regular Apple TV cannot?
It could be more powerful and more gaming-focused.

Apple TV plays games, generally games that are also available on mobile devices. But it doesn't really get most console-level games. It doesn't get Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto or Battlefield or Assassin's Creed or Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. It's not a "real" console-level platform, in other words, and there are signs that it's failing even as a mobile-level gaming platform. Fortnite, the biggest game of the last few years, plays on iOS and consoles but has never hit Apple TV, despite being an extremely popular iOS game. Last year Microsoft actually discontinued Minecraft for Apple TV, which is pretty shocking, because Minecraft is on everything. If Apple TV can't get enough of a player base to sustain a tvOS port of Fortnite or Minecraft, tvOS is failing as a game platform.

Having tvOS be a successful game platform is important because game consoles are fast becoming the only "computer boxes" people are buying to plug into their TVs. Virtually every TV sold now is a smart TV, so it already has access to all the streaming services — people aren't going to buy a $150+ Apple TV just for those. Heck, there's a good chance that smart TV will even have the Apple TV app. The little streaming puck market is being completely obviated by smart TVs. If Apple wants to remain in the "sell things people plug into their TV" market, they're going to have to evolve.

Do they want to remain in that market? I think they do, if they have an opportunity there. And I think they do.

You mention the prices of the current consoles — they all start at around $250-300 — but those systems have been on the market for years, and their prices have come down over time. Apple already claimed that the A12X chip they released in the iPad Pro last year had the same graphics performance as the $300 Xbox One S, and I'm sure they could have shoved that in an Apple TV-style box for less than $300. But the real opportunity is the next generation of consoles, coming in 2020.

The new consoles from Microsoft and Sony aren't going to succeed the Xbox One and PS4 at their 2020 price points — that's not how they do things. They're going to be significantly more expensive, with the current consoles continuing on as a budget option for a while. Most industry watchers are expecting a price point of around $499 for each of the new consoles. They're each going to be a biggish box with a 7nm APUs that were custom-designed by AMD, they're each going to have Blu-ray optical drives, and they're each going to have big SSDs.

That's where I think Apple has the opportunity, because in 2020 they're going to have their custom 5nm chips out. They're not going to have to pay AMD for chips. They'll be able to put their own chips into a smallish enclosure that is cheaper to ship, because they're not going to have to build in Blu-ray optical drives. They'll have to put in a bigger-than-Apple-TV SSD if they want to get the big console games, but they can probably get away with a smaller one than the other new consoles — maybe 256GB vs. 1TB. I think Apple could deliver a next-gen system with better-than-PS4 performance at potentially a much lower price than the PS5. (Will it be better-than-PS5 performance? Maybe not. Do I think it will be "close enough" for most people if it gets the good games for two hundred dollars less? Yes.)

If Apple wants to keep making TV computer boxes, they're going to have to go harder into games, because those are fast becoming the only types of TV computer boxes people buy. (I don't think anyone thinks the current tvOS hardware has been an outright success for Apple.) And maybe they'd just as soon drop the market, if they didn't think they had an opportunity to be competitive in the gaming space. But I think they do have an opportunity — a good one. They just have to make more powerful, focused hardware to accomplish that (and build bridges with developers and the like too, of course).

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong
  quote
Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
awesome
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Portland, OR
 
2019-08-01, 23:37

Quote:
Originally Posted by kscherer View Post
However, there does not need to be a different box. "Regular Apple TV" just needs some processor upgrading and a larger case to deal with the heat.
I think that sounds like a different box to me. Especially if it comes with a controller instead of the Siri Remote.

To be clear, I am talking about something that would basically replace* Apple TV hardware as Apple's future tvOS hardware, not something that would be sold alongside the Apple TV boxes we know and sort-of love, because I don't think those boxes make sense any more.

I think they'll change the name, whatever their future hardware is, for several reasons. The first is just clarity — it's clear that from Apple's perspective "Apple TV" is an app now, and soon to be a streaming service. I don't think it makes sense to keep using that name to refer to hardware that already does much more than run the Apple TV app.

But the other reason is about positioning. If the Apple TV is going to get bigger and more powerful and more expensive to take on the game console market, I think it would be way easier to brand that as something new (GamePod, whatever) than to try and sell people on a $300 "Apple TV." People already have an idea for what Apple TV is, and it's not a high-powered gaming platform that's worth $300. Apple would specifically want to shed the image of their platform as one that only plays "lite" mobile-style games; a huge amount of their messaging is going to be convincing people that they're finally taking gaming seriously.

This messaging isn't just for consumers, but also for developers. If they're indeed taking gaming seriously and want to get all the big console games on board, it's probably easier to signal that with a new name rather than "Apple TV, take 5! It's a real game console now, we promise!"

*) The only other space in the market I can see for tvOS hardware would be a stripped-down cheap "Apple TV stick" for people who have TVs they like that aren't smart TVs, but who want to be able to access streaming services (and who don't already have some other streaming player they like). That market is getting smaller by the day, but Apple could potentially make some moves there, especially if they want to encourage adoption of Apple TV+. The 3rd-gen Apple TV eventually got down to $69, for example. But the $100-200 media player space the Apple TV currently plays in is just completely gone.

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong
  quote
kscherer
The Ban Hammer
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Boyzeee
 
2019-08-02, 10:12

Yeah, I could see two products in the lineup.

1) The $49 (maybe $79?) Apple TV, powered by something like the current A8 processor and just a small fob with an HDMI port on one end and [maybe] Gb ethernet on the other (some of us do like to use ethernet ). Comes with the old Apple TV remote, but with "Hey, Siri" built in.

2) GamePod, the $249 Ax-powered gaming console. This is basically an iPad Pro without a screen or battery, and comes with an actual game controller. The only connectors are USB-C and ethernet, but it comes with a USB-C to HDMI cable in the box. USB-C to DisplayPort cable is an accessory (don't worry, there are lots of these things out there). The single USB-C port supports hub-type devices for connecting to ethernet, USB, and other video outputs. That's it. I don't see it needing anything else. Well, except a built-in power supply. The entire package could be the size of a current Mac Mini, and be offered in several models, where the only differentiating factor is storage. 64GB, 256GB, 512GB. Games and apps are delivered through the tvOS App Store. Naturally, it supports Apple Arcade, Apple TV+, and should support Apple News+ but through a new video-centric version.

$249 might be a bit low for Apple ($299 is better?), but they surprised us with the original iPad. Considering it would use Apple's Ax chips and iPad Pro logic, pricing would be much lower than Intel. This might let Apple keep the price down while delivering blazing fast performance.

It would have to ship with a "killer app", some Halo-style, gotta-have-it-right-now, exclusive gaming title that was so bad ass that gamers would rush out to buy them just for that game! The original Xbox didn't sell the Xbox, Halo sold the Xbox. Apple would need something of that caliber to get people excited. Otherwise, people already own an Xbox or a Playstation or a Wii or whatever. There has to be something truly compelling, and it has to do everything that the current Apple TV does so I can move my Apple TV to another room and not have to have multiple boxes. And the cost of the box + the cost of the games has to be convincing enough that I set those other consoles aside.

Otherwise, it's a tightly competitive market where game developers (much more so than the console manufacturers) are already busy and may not want to be bothered. It has to be good enough that Bungie's next BIG FUTURE GAME® is GamePod exclusive (or some other such thing). As with iPhone, developers will sort out where the action is and turn their attention toward that.

Downside, here: If BIG FUTURE GAME® reaches a point where the best titles are $5 with in-app purchases, the whole thing will just . Any game, and I mean any game, that sticks me somewhere where I cannot proceed without $$$, I immediately quit playing and the delete the title. That is just lazy development.

Boise State! … Boise State! … Boise State!
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Robo
Formerly Roboman, still
awesome
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Portland, OR
 
2019-08-02, 12:02

If they want to have a shot at console-quality games, they're going to need to pack in more than 64GB of storage. And I think they'll give it a standard HDMI port.

But otherwise I think we're mostly picturing the same thing: a Mac mini/original Apple TV-sized square for around $300 with a controller in the box. It could run the 2020 iPad Pro's A14X or whatever, though I wouldn't be surprised if Apple gave it a purpose-built chip ("G1"?) that is basically an A14XX, since battery life is no longer a concern and it no longer needs to fit in a 5mm-thin case. (Apple seems willing to have a chip family for every letter of the alphabet, and on both this and the eventual ARM Macs, I think they'll want to avoid the stigma of using "mobile" parts.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by kscherer View Post
Otherwise, it's a tightly competitive market where game developers (much more so than the console manufacturers) are already busy and may not want to be bothered.
I don't know. Cross-platform engines making porting much simpler than it was in the past, and most developers want their games to be everywhere. Stadia doesn't really have a killer app and has far fewer announced exclusives than Apple Arcade already has, and yet there were Stadia logos everywhere at E3. It's got Assassin's Creed, Borderlands, Destiny, Doom Eternal, that new Avengers game, the new Ghost Recon, the new Wolfenstein and Watch Dogs and on and on and on. There are still some big omissions (EA and Activision aren't on board yet) but it has a ton of support from "real" console games. And that's streaming, which seems like it would be significantly more difficult to retroactively port games to.

Developers are eager to find new markets for their games besides Xbox/PlayStation/Steam. I think if Apple can make a compelling offering for consumers, developers would be on board.

But if they want to make a splash and signal that they're taking console-style gaming seriously, it's not like spending money to secure "killer" exclusive content is unheard of for Apple, either (see: Oprah).

and i guess i've known it all along / the truth is, you have to be soft to be strong
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