The biggest news of E3 2013 was the battle between the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, a battle centered on consumer rejection of digital rights management and used game restrictions. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Apple quietly fired a shot that could eventually neuter traditional game consoles. iOS controller support could change everything.
Prior to last week's WWDC conference, I suggested that Apple might be on the verge of revealing a game controller for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch, based on industry rumblings and tips from our sources. Apple took it a step further, introducing support for third-party game controllers in the upcoming iOS 7 and — here's the important part — establishing a standard for how those third-party controllers will operate.
Up until now, third-party iOS controllers have been a scattered mess. Products like the iCade have worked well enough, but in order for them to function properly, a game has to be designed to take advantage of the device. Not a lot of iOS game developers are going to spend the time implementing a control scheme for a product only a handful of gamers own.
With the controller support coming in iOS 7, however, there is a standard. Every compliant third-party controller will function exactly the same, be it Logitech's iPhone 5-to-PSP converter kit style, or a controller with a clip — peripheral maker Power A is already prepping an iOS version of its popular MOGA Android controller. Developers no longer have to worry about which consumers own which controllers — they all work.
It's a very 'game console' approach to controller support, one that Apple is uniquely situated among mobile platform makers to implement. The Android platform has been supporting controllers for quite some time, but with countless manufacturers creating an endless array of diverse Android devices, achieving a standard for controllers is problematic. The iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch share a single manufacturer, so standards are easy.
And then there's the Apple TV, which is just a game controller and some apps away from becoming a viable home console.
Right now we can hook our iPhones and iPads up to our television sets or stream our games through Apple TV, which is nifty but overall feels very Wii U — why do I need a single game running on two screens? But an app-enabled Apple TV with controller support would kill. It'd be a relatively inexpensive game console with excellent media streaming capabilities, a rapidly-growing game library and one of the world's most recognizable logos on the front.
An Apple game console wouldn't insta-kill our PlayStations, Wii Us and Xboxen, but it has the potential to reach a much larger audience than Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft could ever hope for. Such an audience would be incredibly attractive to developers and publishers, and when big-name games start seeing more success on iOS than those others... well, we know how they do.
It also bears noting that iOS games are all tightly-controlled by DRM, there are no used game sales, and those decisions are completely out of developer and publisher hands, so they can't be held accountable.
I wouldn't worry too much, at least not for now. Even though I'm pretty sure the Apple TV game console is going to happen (as is Gizmodo), there are too many variables in play to gauge exactly how successful such an endeavor would be.
Except for iOS controller support — that's no longer a variable. It's coming this fall with iOS 7. I can't wait to see what sweeping changes come with it.