Apple TV must undo the company’s history of contempt and apathy for gaming

Apple has supported gaming on the TV using its AirPlay feature, but now the Apple TV may finally get a gaming App Store of its own.

Apple makes billions of dollars from games every year, and starting tomorrow, it might introduce a device that could help it make a few billion more. But that will come despite the company’s historical ambivalence toward the hobby.

Tomorrow, Apple holds one of its semiregular events to announce new products, and we’re expecting to get the details about a gaming-centric Apple TV microconsole. The machine will likely come with the latest iPhone processor, a motion-sensing remote, and support for Bluetooth controllers. We’ve already talked about what we know about the upcoming device and the games we’d like to play on it, but now let’s take a quick look back at why it’s strange to see Apple embracing games so deeply for one of its premier products.

Mac vs. PC

When I was a kid, my mom bought us a computer from one of her friends. It was an Apple IIe, and it came with a stack of games on those giant 5.5-inch floppy disks.

This was a golden time for Apple and gaming. It kickstarted classic franchises like Ultima, Prince of Persia, and Castle Wolfenstein. Hell, Nintendo’s Donkey Kong even made it onto the Apple II. Eventually, hundreds of games came out for the Apple II, and just about anyone who owned one was bound to have a stack of their favorites.


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But by 1984, Apple moved on to the Macintosh computer and away from games. And this forced the community of developers that had previously supported Apple to move onto to PC

The big reason Mac wasn’t great for games in those days was because it didn’t come with a built-in programming language. That made it difficult for the kinds of people who were making games at the time. Developers were primarily hobbyists who made games by themselves, and the PC’s toolset was far more welcoming. The Mac’s hardware was also limited in terms of RAM and speed, and it would’ve had performance issues many games.

At the same time, Apple wasn’t exactly worried about providing support to game makers. The company didn’t want people thinking of the Macintosh as a toy, and it instead positioned it as a productivity device for professionals. That’s a position the company maintained for the most part over the next 30 years.

But the Mac still had games. The 1990s gave rise to Myst, which was one of the best-selling releases ever. And Destiny developer Bungie started out making Mac-first shooters like Marathon in 1994.

And it was always understood by anyone who paid attention to Apple or its founder, Steve Jobs, that gaming wasn’t important. Here is Jobs in 1990 talking in the past tense about the “video game phenomenon.” He explains that the hobby is trivial until you try to use the medium as a learning environment for something important, like a “sophisticated macro-economic model of how France might have functioned in the time of Louis the XIV.”

Apple did almost nothing to encourage the growth of gaming even in a direction where it could simulate complex economies — which is something we did eventually get in the form of games like Crusader Kings II.

The only exception to all of this was the Apple Pippin.

The Pippin is a Mac-based multimedia console that debuted in 1995. A Job-less Apple designed the Pippin with games in mind and then licensed the technology to partners like the Japanese toy company Bandai.

But Apple did nothing to market Pippin. It let Bandai spend $93 million to do so itself, but Apple wouldn’t let the advertising materials refer to Pippin as a “computer.”

Obviously, the Pippin never caught on. Bandai only ever sold around 12,000 Pippin units.

 

When Jobs returned in 1997, the Pippin was one of the very first projects he killed. And that helped cement the company’s apathetic attitude toward gaming.

To Apple, games are a lesser medium

Of course, Apple is one of the biggest gaming companies in the world today. Mobile games could generate $30 billion in spending worldwide this year, and the iPhone and iPad are responsible for most of that.

But that influx of cash still hasn’t undone Apple’s contempt for games. Instead, we’ve seen the company repeatedly treat the medium as if it were nothing but toys for children.

Here is a direct quote from Apple’s developer guidelines that illustrates how it feels about games:

“We view apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store.”

This isn’t just a passive opinion. The company has used this rule to ban games from its App Store. Affected releases include games that explore the Syrian civil war, the American Civil War, and sweatshops in developing nations.

And now the new Apple TV

Apple’s view on games hasn’t changed. At least it hasn’t publicly come out and reversed its stance that it will curate games for content in a way it won’t for books or music. But it doesn’t look like it will stop the company from moving ahead with an Apple TV that prominently features games as one of its big features.

That makes sense for both Apple and developers. The company has the potential to disrupt how gaming works on televisions in a major way for the first time since the earliest consoles. It could swoop in and succeed where the Ouya Android-based microconsole failed and where others, like Razer and Nvidia, are struggling.

And if Apple does succeed in this space, it will likely do so as it has done with iPhone and iPad. By providing a platform for developers to reach a large audience that already has its credit-card information saved with iTunes.

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Apple keynote: Will new iPhones help prevent first ever drop in unit sales?

Apple logo

Since the release of the first iPhone back in 2007, Apple has maintained a remarkable streak. Each quarter, the company has sold more units of the iPhone than it did in the same quarter the previous year.

As the company prepares for its latest iPhone event Wednesday, some observers are wondering: Can the company keep that streak alive?

There are some analysts projecting that the company will see a year-over-year decline in quarterly unit sales during the holiday quarter (Apple’s FY2016 Q1). And others point to the first three months of 2016 (Apple’s FY2016 Q2) as the point for a possible drop.


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Why?

In some ways, the company may be a victim of its own success. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were such monster hits, and so many people upgraded, that some analysts believe the expected iPhone 6s is going to have a hard time matching that momentum. There just aren’t enough differences in design or features to generate the same enthusiasm.

There is also concern that China’s economy continues to stall, though Apple chief executive Tim Cook recently said the company is performing strongly there despite these headwinds.

Personally, I would still be a bit shocked to see an actual drop in the number of iPhones sold. In terms of units, I think there is going to be a big surge when, as expected, Apple drops the price of the iPhone 6. The company typically does this for its mid-tier phone, and the iPhone 6 will represent a huge deal that may trigger another wave of upgrades.

I still have an iPhone 5, but my wife got an iPhone 6 this summer. And while my 3-year-old iPhone 5 still works great, the quality of photos from the iPhone 6 has left me more than a little jealous.

In any case, whether growth just slows a bit, or whether actual numbers drops, it’s going to be interesting to see how Apple manages Wall Street’s expectations. The company has been here several times in recent years, its demise or decline widely feared.

And each time, it’s kept its head down and just kept moving forward. No matter how much the rest of the world may freak out, I’d expect the company to ride through this next potential rough patch with the same attitude.
Statistic: Global Apple iPhone sales from 3rd quarter 2007 to 3rd quarter 2015 (in million units) | Statista
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Keys to the next iPhone’s success: Better photos and video, and a lower price

An Apple iPhone 6 is seen on display at the Apple store on 5th Avenue in the Manhattan borough of New York City, July 21, 2015.

The new iPhone 6S — as we expect it to be called — is by no means a surefire hit. Like every other phone launched into the market, the new iPhone 6 will have to contain some legit improvements over its predecessor, the iPhone 6.

The new iPhones will be announced at a press event September 9th in San Francisco.

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are hugely popular phones, mainly because the contain a major improvement that users had been howling for: larger screens. Measured diagonally, the iPhone 6 has a 4.7-inch screen and the iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5-inch screen. Their predecessor, the iPhone 5S, has a 4-inch screen.


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The iPhone 6S won’t have have to luxury of a big, obvious, and desired improvement like a size increase. The 6S will be the same size as the 6, if a little bit thicker.

So what’s the trick that will get iPhone owners to trade up to the new phone? Based on what we know right now, the answer is a screen with Force Touch control and haptic feedback, as well as better cameras.

Force Touch, which lets you press and hold on the screen to bring up new menus or navigation options, is a nice feature, but likely not enough to move someone to invest in an expensive new phone.

The camera, on the other hand, might move some people to consider the 6S. That’s because you don’t have to be a pro photographer to appreciate the quality of the camera on your phone. Anybody can zoom in on their vacation photos, or show them on a desktop display, and see the limitations in the current iPhone 6 camera.

The new phone is expected to have a 12-megapixel camera sensor on the back, which should create an improvement in photos and video that is easy to see. It would also bring Apple back into parity with the premium cameras on competing phones from Samsung, LG, and Microsoft.

This improvement in the camera could touch off that “I’ve got to have that” feeling we get shortly before we lay out the plastic for a new Apple device.

The iPhone 6S will offer many other feature upgrades, too, like a faster chip, (possibly) a brighter screen, better quality aluminum, a faster 4G radio chip, and more colors. But it’s hard to see any of these being something that moves people to buy.

Apple may be able to close the sale on the iPhone 6S with all these individual features, the new cameras, and a lower price tag — all wrapped up in a nice little package. Any one of these components, by itself, likely won’t be enough.

And Apple should be feeling a little bit of pressure on the price point. In the Android world there’s been an obvious movement toward selling devices with premium feature sets at below $400. See the OnePlus 2 and the Nextbit Robin phones for examples. This, experts say, is where Android phone makers need to compete, because trying to sell $750 premium phones against Apple and Samsung is a very tough game. Just ask HTC.

I don’t think the story ends there, however. Some people who would normally pay that $750 for the next iPhone might be tempted to save some money and buy a less expensive OnePlus, Motorola, or Nextbit phone. Add this to falling component prices, high competition, and falling consumer price expectations, and Apple probably can’t hang onto its high prices forever.

Now would be an excellent time for Apple to start making the downward price adjustment. It’s better to sell more phones for a little less money than it is to risk selling way fewer phones at iPhone 6 prices.

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Apple starts Twitter account dedicated to gaming

An Apple logo hangs above the entrance to the Apple store on 5th Avenue in the Manhattan borough of New York City, July 21, 2015.

Apple makes billions of dollars from selling mobile game, and now it is finally embracing the hobby on social media.

The company launched @AppStoreGames on Twitter today as a place where it will share information about new releases and deals. This feed will deliver content directly from Apple’s App Store editors, which is the same group of people who determine the Featured Apps you see when you boot up the marketplace. So far, the account has made references to Zelda (a series that is not yet on iOS) and shared promotions from mobile developers.

While this might indicate that Apple is finally starting to soften up about its approach to gaming — a medium it treats with some contempt — the timing of this Twitter accounts arrival is probably more telling even than that. Apple has an event planned for next week, and the rumor (as first reported by 9to5 Mac) is that the company will introduce a new Apple TV that will have a heavy focus on gaming. This means a full App Store for TV-based games, Bluetooth controller support, and more. Mobile gaming is worth $30 billion worldwide, and Apple’s store is responsible for the majority of that. Now, the company may try to expand on that by incorporating a different screen in your house.

Read everything we know about the next Apple TV right here.

Up until this point, Apple has established itself as a major player in the gaming space almost by accident. The App Store has produced dozens of popular and lucrative games on iPhones and iPads, and Apple has reaped the reward. The vast majority of spending on the App Store is for game content, and the company could potentially re-create that success on televisions with an Apple TV-style console.

If the September 9 Apple event does lead to a set-top box with deep support for gaming, we will once again watch the Mac company enter a market sector that others have failed to solve. In this case, the most notable example is the Android-based Ouya microconsole, which debuted to much hype after a successful Kickstarter. But that TV gaming system failed to find an audience and — even worse — failed to produce any successful third-party developers. That led to hardware manufacturer Razer acquiring the Ouya brand, store, and patents in July.

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The next iPhone: The new features we expect to see September 9

Apple's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus camera lenses

Apple is expected to announce its next iPhones at a press event in San Francisco September 9th. The rumors of what the new phones will look like and act like have been flying for months, and VentureBeat’s own sources have given us some reliable insights on the devices.

The new phones — likely called the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus — will be an upgrade from the existing iPhone 6 and 6 Plus phones. Apple’s challenge was to build into these devices an attractive enough feature set to tempt current iPhone 6 owners, and owners of earlier iPhones, to upgrade. And these are the features we expect to see that might tempt them to do so.

Force Touch

As we reported in early June, the new iPhone 6S will get a front screen with Force Touch and haptic feedback.

Here’s how it works. When you press harder on the screen, sensors in the screen detect the increased pressure by measuring the increased surface area occupied by the finger. The device then responds with haptic feedback — a tap — that gives you the illusion you’ve pressed down on a physical button.

The point of Force Touch is to add a new type of navigation tool to the phone’s user interface. For instance, by pressing down on a location on a map you might automatically trigger driving directions to the location without having to press the “route” button. A Force Touch might also bring up a whole menu of actions related to a specific piece of content, such as a song in the Music app.

Faster processor

The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are expected to run on Apple’s new A9 processor, which is said to be significantly faster than the A8 chip in the iPhone 6. This might be most readily apparent in game play and video playback. The new phone will also have 2GB of RAM, which should give the phone still more horsepower.

Better front and rear cameras

The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have 1.2 megapixel camera sensors and f/2.2 aperture, which Apple said lets in 81 percent more light than earlier iPhones. The larger 12-megapixel rear-facing camera in the new iPhone 6S should make for brighter and sharper selfies and FaceTime video.

The iPhone 6 has an 8-megapixel camera, and the limitations of that camera can be clearly seen in the washed-out details of images.

4K video

The 12-megapixel rear camera sensor on the iPhone 6S will have the capability to shoot video in full 4K high-definition resolution. The existing iPhone 6’s 8-megapixel camera shoots 1080p video.

While 4K does offer a better, sharper look, for many consumers the new feature won’t immediately make a difference. Relatively few have purchased the new 4K TVs or monitors needed to watch the higher-quality video.

Brighter display

The pictures and video users shoot with the 6S’s improved camera will look better when viewed on the phone itself. VentureBeat sources said last spring that Apple was working with a far brighter OLED screen for its next phone. We expect this to ship with the new 6S.

Better cellular radio

It’s common for new iPhones to get a cellular radio upgrade. The iPhone 6S likely will too, in the form of a new Qualcomm MDM9635M chip that is theoretically about twice as fast as the cellular radio in the existing iPhone 6.

Harder aluminum

Yep, Apple was paying attention to the “Bendgate” controversy, spurred by a video showing a dude bending an iPhone 6 with his bare hands. Apple has strengthened the metal in the inner wall of the iPhone 6S’s back plate around the volume buttons — the place where the iPhone 6 was shown to bend. The screws that hold everything together are also in different places inside the phone.

More colors

And finally, we believe the rumors that the new 6S will come in two new colors — Rose Gold and a darker shade of Space Gray.

The new iPhones are not expected to sell quite as well as the iPhone 6, the first Apple phone to offer a larger screen in years. But then the 6 is a hard act to follow. After the launch of the iPhone 6, Apple sold 74.5 million iPhones in the final quarter of 2014, a new record. In the following quarter, Apple sold 61 million iPhones, which is seasonally slower.


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Mobile Exits Drop Below Investments For First Time Since 2013

mobilemarket It’s been party time for mobile, with massive growth and disruption helping VCs to raise huge funds, entrepreneurs to raise massive rounds, and valuations to skyrocket. With 89 mobile Internet unicorns now worth almost $1 trillion, it’s no surprise that folks from Silicon Valley to Shanghai are asking what’s going on with return on investment. Read More

Tim Cook’s China statement soothes Apple investor freak-out

tim-cook-lightsaber-apple-ceo-war-happy-celebrating-good-star-wars

Apple investors are willing to overlook many things, but the health of the Chinese iPhone market isn’t one of them.

On news of a tanking Chinese stock market early today, Apple investors were running for the exits. Apple stock dove way below the $100 market for the first time this year — to $94.87.

Apple may be a little sensitive about China, too. Tim Cook this morning made a rare mid-quarter statement about the market in a note to CNBC markets expert Jim Cramer. It goes:

I can tell you that we have continued to experience strong growth for our business in China through July and August. Growth in iPhone activations has actually accelerated over the past few weeks, and we have had the best performance of the year for the App Store in China during the last 2 weeks.

Cook gave no actual numbers, but the little he did say was apparently enough. Apple stock has now bounced back to pre-crisis levels at around $107 at the time of this writing (1 p.m. EST Monday).


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This isn’t the first time Cook has addressed fears about the Chinese market, and Apple’s dependence on hot iPhone sales there.

China’s stock market tanked back on July 6, too, remember, and sure enough Cook found himself reassuring investors after his company announced third quarter earnings July 21. Apple’s stock dropped 7 percent in after-hours trading that day, largely on worries over China.

Apple reported a decline in China iPhone sales of 21 percent from the previous quarter, but a 112 percent increase from the same quarter a year earlier.

During a conference call with analysts, Apple CEO Tim Cook said Apple will continue to put the “pedal to the metal” in China, and that Apple might feel some bumps in the road but in the long term China will be a large and growing revenue source.

Cook has good reason for saying so. Apple’s large-screened phones sell best in markets where mobile bandwidth is plentiful, and the Chinese mobile carriers are just now building their LTE networks.

As of the end of 2014, the number of mobile Internet users in China reached 557 million (an increase of 56.72 million for the year), making it the largest smartphone market in the world, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

This means there will be fierce competition among companies like Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei, and others for share in the emerging market. And there may be enough addressable market there to buoy up Apple’s iPhone’s sales for the foreseeable future.

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