The iPad Pro can easily be described as Apple's competitor to the Surface, but it's the Apple TV that received probably the biggest update with the addition of apps and games. And with it, the Apple TV enters into Microsoft and Sony territory in the home entertainment center.
I'll be up front with this. I don't think the Apple TV is in any way a console killer. I also don't think the Apple TV represents too much of a concern for Microsoft, or indeed Sony, at this time. Apple's move into TV-based gaming isn't a direct challenge to the console makers, more an inevitability that's taken longer than many would argue it should have.
Knowing your place
What Apple has created is a casual gaming product whose primary role is still the delivery of media content. Be that iTunes purchases or rentals, Netflix, MLB or any of a number of other streaming services. It's been a successful product. Not on the scale of the iPhone, say, but still, hardly what anyone could describe as an unsuccessful venture.
By contrast, the Xbox One is primarily a games machine. The console's launch may have suggested otherwise, but ultimately, Xbox is gaming to Microsoft. It has the added value of being able to function at the center of a home entertainment system, offering similar services to the Apple TV along with a Blu Ray player. There's also the small matter of the OneGuide and Cable pass-through or OTA TV with the Xbox One. It integrates into your entertainment, it's less so much just an add-on to it.
To Apple, apps and games from its App Store are just another form of content that it's making money from. Unlike Sony, Microsoft and even Nintendo, Apple isn't (currently) making any first party games. It is instead providing a conduit for others to deliver the content.
Games still need horsepower
Talk of TV based gaming will immediately make the current consoles will spring to mind. I don't know exactly what is in the Apple TV, but is it really going to be on a par with the Xbox One or the PS4? Unlikely.
Take the buzzword marketing applied to the iPad Pro which has a "console class GPU" inside it. And a more powerful CPU than the Apple TV. So, if anything, the iPad Pro will be a more competent gaming machine.
That's not to say there won't be amazing looking games on the Apple TV. Because there will. iOS already has some stunners, like Infinity Blade and Real Racing. But both of those could also run on the current crop of games consoles without breaking a sweat. For the complete picture, the CPU inside the Apple TV is the same as that in the 12-month old iPhone 6.
The Apple TV will be capable when it comes to gaming. The combination of the hardware and Apple's Metal will see to that. But a console, this is not.
The casual approach
What the Apple TV is, is the company's answer to products like Android TV, Roku and the Amazon Fire TV. Gaming on these devices has been possible for a while, with Apple's Crossy Road demo, multiplayer withstanding, already available on the £35 Fire TV Stick. What is highly probable is that Apple TV will get better support than at least the Android competition when it comes to developers getting apps and games on the platform.
Even though we've already seen that Guitar Hero Live will be available (also on Xbox One) and a great looking Warhammer game, those who actually want to game in the living room are still going to get a console. Guitar Hero is one thing, but you're not going to be seeing a Forza 6 level racer or something the scale of Fallout 4 hitting the Apple TV. Or at least, not in the same fashion as you'll get on a console.
iOS devices are where Apple has made its reputation and big portions of its vast fortune in recent years. The Mac, while considered successful, remains something of a joke when it comes to gaming. Certainly next to the Windows powered juggernaut. The Apple TV is a more casual approach, but probably a better play in the long run.
Should Microsoft be concerned?
Concern is maybe the wrong word. Perhaps aware is a better way to consider it at this time. Microsoft would be foolish to ignore what's going on, as would Sony and Google for that matter. This could well be Apple dipping its toe into what could become a much bigger gaming play. But there are still only two big dogs in the console space: Microsoft and Sony. Apple's brand value is phenomenal but also not synonymous with gaming.
PlayStation and Xbox on the other hand, are.
Microsoft definitely needs to keep one eye on what's going on at Apple. At the same time the Xbox One is gearing up for its Windows 10 update which opens up a whole new world for the console. It puts it into the Universal Windows Apps space and, in theory, allows for similar development as is going to be possible on the Apple TV. The Windows app catalog isn't particularly strong, but the allure of millions of PCs and Xbox One consoles is about as much as Microsoft can offer to entice.
We've also got the ID@Xbox program which is going great guns. Most of the games that come through there could also head to mobile and the Apple TV, but that some of the most interesting titles of the year are coming out of it is nothing but encouraging. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is brilliant.
There's still so much we don't know. But as it stands right now, the Apple TV isn't going to replace the Xbox One or the PS4. At least, not if you're gaming.
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