INSIGHT

Taking a bite out the console industry

Should Apple enter the fray?

“The what?” No, not a typo. The Pippin. Developed in the mid-1990s by Apple in the hope it could enter the lucrative console market. Sadly, things didn’t quite go according to plan. Only around 42,000 units sold before the machine was discontinued and Apple retreated, choosing to launch other products like, well, the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

No-one would dispute that it was the right decision.

Yet twenty years later, with the company’s portfolio groaning for something new, Apple could, and say some, should – try again. But what does history teach us? The world is a very different place.

 
 

Rediscover gaming ambitions

Luke Dormehl, writing for cultofmac.com is in the ‘should’ camp.  Going head-to-head with an opponent under the headline ‘Should Apple take on Xbox and PlayStation?’, he argues: “You only have to look at the opening day of almost server-crashing Super Mario Run or Pokemon Go enthusiasm to see there is tremendous demand when it comes to gaming from Apple customers.

“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 help drive hardware sales of something like the Apple TV…Games certainly seem a market Apple could do very well in. And has really, really ignored for years now.”

A potentially stupid move

Such optimism is misplaced, according to Luke’s sceptical adversary, Killian Bell, who believes a foray into consoles would see Apple biting off more than it can chew. He says: “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.”

An Apple-Nintendo lovein

While there is no indication from official quarters that Apple is about to rekindle its latent 1990s console dreams, the firm isn’t ignoring gaming in the way Luke Dormehl claims. Techcrunch.com reported CEO Tim Cook’s glowing reference to Super Mario at the September launch of the iPhone 7. He said: “The App Store has made so many things better in our lives — the way we communicate, the way we work and the way we have fun. But for gamers of all ages, the story just hasn’t been complete without Mario, so we are thrilled that Nintendo is bringing him to iOS for the first time this December.”

To say Super Mario’s move to Apple has been mutually beneficial is an understatement. TechCrunch reports Super Mario Run was downloaded from the App Store 10m times a day in the week of release, with total downloads in the first week of January at over 90m. No wonder Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima has promised more. In an interview with Glixel.com, he even described Apple in glowing terms: “Apple, like Nintendo, is a company that thinks about how people will use their products. We design things to be usable by a very broad range of people. They put a lot of effort into the interface and making the product simple to use, and that's very consistent with Nintendo.”

If you can't beat them, don't join them

Having carved a gargantuan niche as one of the world’s biggest paradigm-creators, could or should Apple turn its attention to consoles? We’ll leave the last-but-one word to cultofmac.com’s Killian Bell:

“I think a console would be another unnecessary thing. Apple will never beat the PlayStation or the Xbox, so it would be a waste of time. 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.”

Given that however, it’s not beyond possibility that future upgrades to Apple TV will create a near-competitor to Nintendo’s new Switch console. Or perhaps Apple has a VR device up its sleeve that will take on Sony and Microsoft?

Rock on 2017!

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