Which of the Console Companies will an Apple "Smart Television" Kill?

Illustration for article titled Which of the Console Companies will an Apple Smart Television Kill?

There's going to be another round of consoles. There's another Xbox coming, another PlayStation. Anything could happen in the next couple of years before they're released. For instance, Apple could start selling "smart televisions".

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There have been "Apple TV" rumors for years, even before there was the current bolt-on AppleTV. (Here's one of today's.) But now Apple's a bit of a gaming powerhouse—despite, at times, seemingly not giving much attention to gaming itself (e.g. the smelly old design of Game Center). And while the imagined Apple smart television likely wouldn't be much more than an LCD panel plus the guts of an AppleTV (which are the guts of the iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone, more or less), it's entirely possible that a whiz-bang interface—the one that Steve Jobs reportedly "cracked" before he passed away—would draw in a bunch of new users.

New users that might not have a need for a console anymore. Users who can get their casual game fix from iOS games they download from iTunes App Store, sitting on their couch. Users who might use an iPhone or iPad as a controller.

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"Traditional" gaming isn't going to die as long as there are still enough people around who want a dedicated gaming experience. (10 million+, let's say.) But as I was discussing with some readers at the Kotaku party at Blizzcon, I think it's very possible this next round of consoles could be the last, especially if Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo don't fully embrace the capabilities we've always wanted from a do-all set top box. That won't mean just games, but movies and cable television, internet browsing, social interaction—the whole schmear. Heck, Gabe Newell thinks so, too. (Microsoft is heading this way in fits and spurts, but also has a sad history over the last decade of innovating in features but neglecting platforms and branding; still, Xbox is their strongest individual entertainment brand.)

If Apple does throw its hat fully into the living room, the traditional consoles are going to have an even more difficult time getting the penetration they need to achieve the economies of scale on hardware and software-to-hardware sell-through rates that make the console business profitable.

It's a bit of a surprise that the three console makers have stuck around this long—I don't see how the market will support four. Nintendo likes to brag about being the games company that engineers paradigm shifts. An Apple Smart TV as a games content trojan horse could have the paradigm shift right out from their—and everybody else's—feet.

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DISCUSSION

PS4 is going to completely succeed. It's huge in Japan, it's a very popular brand overseas, and it's not too shabby in the US either. The only reason they didn't trounce 360 was because they had major issues with pricing at launch. It's clear that they've learned their lesson with the Vita. The PSN is much better now. PSN on Vita already has crossgame chat for free, and access to Netflix for free. PS4 will also have these things. It has much better first party support than 360 does right now. That's going to continue I'm sure. Also, the Vita looks like it's going to be a hit and it will have connectivity with PS3 and PS4.

360 should be the console to fail, but it likely won't. Microsoft offers the worst set of features of any of the systems. You have to pay $60 to game online, or to even use it as a "netflix box." They have squandered almost all of their first party content. Live is turning into a shitty ad-fest, and with Kinect and cable tv built into their successor, that's just going to get worse and worse. I see no need for this system to even exist, as it's going to do the same shit as the PS4, only with less games, and more expensively. Especially with the rise of PC lately, 360 could easily be replaced if the hardcore wise up next gen and switch to Steam.

Wii-U is in rough shape, and will probably be the console to fail. This has nothing at all to do with Apple TV though. The two things could not be more unrelated. Wii-U will bomb because the system itself is not a well thought out idea, and from it's first showing at E3, it was having marketing communication issues with a mainstream audience. Communicating the benefits of one controller with a screen is going to be difficult, if not impossible. They're going to be behind the other two main systems by an entire generation, so multiplatform content will still suffer. Online will still suffer a bit. But Nintendo will still be fine. It won't actually be a "failure" because they're going to release old hardware and make money off every system sold, as they always do. It will start cheap, and just get cheaper. People will buy it just for the Nintendo first party content, which is the best of all 3 systems by far. It will be the same as the Wii, except without all the soccer moms buying it up at such great numbers. It still has the best chance at capturing the kid market though, so I think it'll be fine.

At the end of the day, I don't see any of these failing. Apple TV sounds totally pointless though. From what I understand, it's the equivalent of connecting an iPad to your TV with an HDMI cable. Sounds totally ghetto. No user interface is worth it. It doesn't matter if Saint Jobs himself designed the interface on his death bed. I'm sure the mainstream will probably like it for a bit; but it will mostly be gadget enthusiasts. I'm 100% positive the media will drastically over-inflate its relevance and importance. At the end of the day, I'll be shocked if it really takes off. I just don't see it happening.