Apple just blew its biggest gaming opportunity ever

Apple just blew its biggest gaming opportunity ever

Summary: The console-gaming market is at a major inflection point, but this week Apple was more interested in design geekery than mounting a challenge against Sony and Microsoft in that multi-billion dollar industry. Apple has all the ducks lined up – so why did it just blow its biggest-ever gaming opportunity?


Many years ago — it may have been during an English class, or just on a double dog-dare from a friend, I cannot remember which — I tried to love the beat poetry of Allen Ginsberg and his fellow 1950s-era beatniks. I tried and tried but, I am sad to say, I just couldn’t dig it.

Half a century later, the world has largely forgotten that period of literary innovation too. The 1980s, though, live on — their spirit preserved by Adam Sandler movies, pop-chart riff thieves, and a deep understanding even in some contemporary teenagers that the 80s were, you know, fun. And that is why history remembers the 1980s but has forgotten the beatniks.

Tim Cook promised to keep Steve Jobs’ spirit of innovation alive, but the best he and his cheer squad produced at WWDC was a tacit admission that Apple had let the iOS user interface stagnate for far too long. It was like watching your 60-year-old uncle showing off his break-dancing moves at a family BBQ.

Even as they tried to whip the crowd into a frenzy about the thinness of the iOS 7 fonts and the way the light glints off the phone if you hold it just so, visitors to the E3 Expo in Los Angeles were experiencing something else. Oh, nothing special — just the very future of gaming as we know it in the form of Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 game consoles.

Sure, Apple has done a great job of promoting the development of games for its iPhone and iPad: we all play them, we all love them, we’re frequently addicted to them and sometimes still amazed by them.

However, console games are the real meat and potatoes of the games industry, and the $58 billion non-mobile gaming industry is at a significant inflection point. And that is why, as I noted nearly four years ago, and others have noted for years, Apple needs to get serious about living-room gaming.

All Tim Cook had to do was push the button, release or even hint at a turbo-powered Apple TV into the market this week, and Apple could have stolen Microsoft and Sony's thunder. That's how the old Apple — the Steve Jobs Apple — would have done it.

Yet while Sony and Microsoft executives took the stage at E3, the CEO of the only company with a content and apps-driven strategy good enough to beat them was standing on a stage 347 miles away, telling customers how much prettier iOS 7 will make its existing iPhones look.

Tim Cook promised to keep Steve Jobs’ spirit of innovation alive, but the best he and his cheer squad produced at WWDC was a tacit admission that Apple had let the iOS user interface stagnate for far too long. It was like watching your 60-year-old uncle showing off his break-dancing moves at a family BBQ.

As the vacuums are plugged in and chairs stacked after WWDC and E3, it’s hard not to feel that Apple should have been spending less time trying to school the world in the evils of skeuomorphism, and more time just helping everyone have more fun.

For all its arguable coolness, Apple has never really gotten games or gamers, which is why most developers never bothered writing games for Mac OS X. Apple needs to create new buzz – but this week, all it produced was a dutiful string of me-too changes that had already been nailed by Apple watchers months earlier. These days, even leaked Apple rumours are boring.

Most of their customers, after all, cannot even spell skeuomorphism (Microsoft Word doesn’t know it, either). They don’t care whether the Mac Pro is round or square. They already think iOS is boring and lacks features, and they have already bought apps providing features like iTunes Radio — or supposedly innovative Mac OS X 'Mavericks' features like tabbed Finder windows.

Yawn, yawn, stretch, yawn. Seen that, done that, already got an app for that.

After all, game developers need lead time, especially when dealing with something as high-profile as a completely new console gaming system. Those developers need to know they have the full support of the vendor — and real opportunities to make money — before they invest the time, money and energy that goes into a console-grade game. Microsoft and Sony provide this confidence in spades and encourage developers to, pardon me, think different. Apple, on the other hand, is content selling you the latest Angry Birds and pocketing its 30% when your two-year-old drops $2000 buying berries in Smurfs’ Village.

If Apple wanted into console gaming, it should have been ready to send WWDC developers home brimming with excitement — and have them coding HD-resolution games that will translate onto the big screen and be available by the Christmas rush. It should have teased us with some sort of controller and motion sensor that we can hold in our hands, gaze at wistfully, and discuss ad nauseum in online fan forums.

For all its arguable coolness, Apple has never really gotten games or gamers, which is why most developers never bothered writing games for Mac OS X. Apple needs to create new buzz, but this week, all it produced was a dutiful string of me-too changes that had already been nailed by Apple-watchers months earlier. These days, even leaked Apple rumours are boring.

Cook has expressed frustration at the company’s falling share price, seemingly not understanding why point upgrades of iOS and Mac OS X elicited nothing more than a whole lot of ‘meh’ from Wall Street. Investors need something new to believe in — and a stake in the massive games market would be such a thing. But when in a later conference call Cook promised that Apple has “some really great stuff coming in the fall. And across all of 2014,” the market responded with another big yawn and sold off the shares it had bought in anticipation of something worth watching.

To Apple's credit, they now know all about skew-mor… skuom… skewo-morf… oh, forget it. Just play that Gran Turismo 6 trailer again.

Topic: Apple


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  • To be fair

    Game developers didn't write games for OS X because they only represented 10% of the market compared to Windows. If the situation had been reversed I'm certain plenty of games would have been developed.

    It is interesting that a software company like Microsoft jumped into the console gaming market while a consumer hardware company like Apple continues to pass on this lucrative market.

    While Cook is a very able administrator he is no Steve Jobs.
    • Neither is Jobs

      Are you supposing that if Jobs were still running the show, they may have gotten in to the console market? Jobs had plenty of time to do that and never did.
  • This article is pointless

    Gaming has never been part of Apple strategy. They may provide a platform that games can be played on, but they have never been specifically in that space. They are about content consumption now, and there is lots they can focus on other than gaming.
    • Apple and Gaming

      I'm gonna agree. The only time I've seen Apple in gaming was with the Apple Pippin. Though I could be wrong.
      • Apple and Gaming

        Way back in the day, Apple ][ was known by all as a premiere gaming machine.
        I think Apple actively tried to distance itself from that image with future models and, of course, corporate culture is glacial. If there's some unwritten rule set down by Jobs back in the day that Apple is the professionals' computer, not some "toy", then that's that.
        So although you can play games on an Apple computer, that's not their focus and they don't ever want that image of being a toy.
    • Apple's strategy

      Being the top camera manufacturer was never part of Apple's strategy, either. Yet, more photos are taken every day with iPhones than any other camera sold, including "real" cameras. When Apple saw most people using the iPhone as a camera, they started improving the camera on the iPhone.

      Extend that thought. They now see people using the iPhone as a portable gaming system more than "real" portable gaming systems. Based on their previous actions, it is sensible to assume they will be improving gaming on iPhones. Thinking that they might extend iOS gaming to the living room is not much of a stretch. I don't think they're going to try competing directly with the XBox and Playstation, though. Personally, I think they would simply create a living room iOS device which runs the extensive catalog of existing iOS games.

      You say they are "about content consumption, now." You do realize that games are content, right? All of the same laws which govern movies and music apply equally to software, including games. Interactive content is still content. If I recall correctly, they make more profit selling apps than they make on media, at this point. I'm certain a large chunk of that revenue is from games. Again, it would make sense for them to create even more demand for those games by offering a living room iOS device. The only real challenge would be getting a couch interface to work well on iOS applications.

      In a nutshell, Apple's only significant strategy has been to make more profit. They are pretty flexible in how they make it.
  • this is clearly click bait; but still astonished at your lack of insight

    I don't really care for ZDNet click bait these days - and you guys do it for every company; not just apple.. same regurgitated bashing articles, and loads of Betteridge's law style headlines.. it's not just an apple thing.

    But regardless; this idea that apple has missed the opportunity to enter the console market is about as valid as Apple lost it's opportunity to make a keypad phone. I can't believe you have really been in tech as long as you claim.

    Have you not considered that the fact that both the new super consoles are identical, and there is no innovation?
    Have you not considered that they're main killer features are in home media centers?
    That Apple is working on a home-media center, and has been for some time?
    That iOS 7 could have a whole bunch of game features in it, which are under NDA and weren't mentioned in the keynote address?

    I signed up just to tell you what a lousy journalist I think you are.
    • Agreed

      I created an account just to back you up sir. This article is absolutely ridiculous. People laughed at the concept of smartphone games when the iPhone App Store launched. Just a few years later, Nintendo can’t seem to answer enough “No we’re not bringing our games to iOS” questions.

      Apple stole a HUGE chunk of the mobile game market without even trying. Without even trying! Now consider that the iOS 7 beta has clues for OFFICIAL game controllers:

      Apple doesn't need to compete with Microsoft or Sony. E3 is a pissing contest for console manufacturers. The fact that Apple, a company I don't think anyone would associate with video games, could just come in and eat up most of the mobile gaming market in just a few years proves that they are operating on an entirely different level.

      Jeez...I'm not even a fan or Apple, nor do I own an iOS device, and I can see this.
      • Didn't even start well

        You might as well close your account if you've finished with the mutual grooming.

        How old are you? You're either too young to remember or too old to have noticed but the mobile gaming market was thriving long before the iphone came out. "What, there were smartphones out before the iphone? I don't believe it".

        Why do people like you want to change history? Is it not acceptable to you as it happened?
        Little Old Man
        • Please educate yourself before responding

          Nintendo dominated handheld sales for nearly 20 years. Of course phone games existed before the iPhone, but their sales numbers were nowhere NEAR that of the Gameboy or Nintendo DS. After the iPhone launched, Nintendo faced their first real competition. Now Android and iOS dominate the mobile gaming world.
          • Let me educate YOU

            Your statement:
            "People laughed at the concept of smartphone games when the iPhone App Store launched."
            Ringtones, wallpapers and especially PHONE GAMES were a multi million £/$ industry long before the iphone showed it's innovative little face. So, anyone you heard laughing about the smartphone game concept either lived in a cave or was so far detached from the tech world that they probably didn't understand what was asked. We had app stores before the apple version emerged, we had phone games before the iphone. Is that clear enough for you?

            Maybe you can invent the world according to apple amongst your group of friends but this isn't the place to try it here.

            Enough education for you now? Back to the circle j for you.
            Little Old Man
        • Re: How old are you?

          No arguments and resorting to insult and name calling? Typical of Little Old Man.

          In my country there is a saying that roughly translates in English to "don't ask the elder, ask the experienced". Have a hint.

          None of your arguments is relevant to what you question, even if each of your statements is valid in it's own.
          • Hello danbi - long time no criticise

            I'd actually given up trying to correct your comments, preferring to rank you with the owlnetts of zdnet. Bit harsh in hindsight, maybe a tb7. Sorry, I don't allow as much as tb3 does for english not being your second language, you're eloquent enough with your ramblings.

            There's a phrase over here, don't judge a book by it's cover. Take the hint - it's a public forum, you should know a lot better, I did give you more credit. Not sure why.

            Just for laughs though, please explain, how stating mobile phone games were a multi-million £/$ industry before the app store is irrelevant to someone saying before the appstore people laughed at the theory of mobile phone games. Are you trying to differentiate between mobile phones and smartphones? Is that what I miss? Games on pre-smartphones is totally different to games on smartphones? I can't see any other reason you could possibly say my reference to phone games before the appstore doesn't relate to someone else's comments about phone games before the appstore. Give it a go though, as I say, it's probably worth a laugh. Or better still, why don't you do what you normally do and go off on some anti-MS rant while telling us all how apple kit can save the world.
            Little Old Man
    • Missed Opportunity

      Somehow, I didn't read the article and come away with the conclusions you did. I thought it was a good article, as a group of us was sitting around saying this exact same thing last night. IMHO, I think Apple missed a great opportunity too - ironically, for all of the same reasons you point out - all Apple had to do was say it out loud...that's what we were saying anyway...

      BTW, saying Apple has been working on a home media center for some time, is a misnomer. Apple launched one back in 2005, that when mated with an external drive, worked well as a home media center - at least for me - it was called the Mac Mini.

      No, I agree with the article - it was a missed opportunity to create buzz...
      • I think they had as much buzz as they needed

        They'll no doubt save the buzz for a proper gaming announcement, as they typically do just before the holiday season. Then we'll see which parents will go and buy their kids super expensive consoles, one of which can't properly support used games, plus more super expensive controllers, vs [redacted due to nda] for their idevices.

        Apple will never enter the console market, just as they didn't enter the netbook market. They will continue on a new course and carve the living shit out of the video game market's profits. i.e. nintendo.

        xboxone and ps4 will continue strong; and apple will add a new device in the living room and begin eating their profits too.
        • The Macbook Air is more like a netbook,

          than a traditional maybe Apple DID enter the netbook market.
          • Re: The Macbook Air

            No, it is not an netbook. It is what actually inspired Intel to go on jihad with the "Ultrabook", so far, not very successful. It is not that the MacBook Air can't be copied, it can and is --- there are almost exact copies on the market already -- if you look at distance.

            It is just that the MacBook Air is a carefully blended computer, to solve some very specific requirements and because of Apple's supply chain it can be sold at it's price, without competition. Since the Ultrabooks were "unleashed", I have carefully watched the market for a device that is at least comparable with the MacBook Air. There is none. Not at this price, not with these features.

            As always, it is not wise to play the game to someone else's rules. Yet, this is exactly what Intel convinced their OEMs to do.
          • Case in point

            Little Old Man
        • Happy Holidays!...

          OK, I can wait...btw, I keep clicking on your [redacted due to nda] link, and it's not working... ;-)
        • support used games

          Was kinda funny to watch the game war unfold but think you may have blown your own argument here;
          "one of which can't properly support used games" ... please, tell us all how Apple supports used games. Understand they are a dime a piece but then that represents their associated quality and re-play factors.

          And then to come out with "super expensive controllers" ... honestly, are you holding out Apple as an example of a supporter of low cost commodities?