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.

Topics: Apple

About

As large as the US mainland but with a smaller population than Texas, Australia relies on ICT innovation to maintain its position as a first-world democracy and a role model for the developing Asia-Pacific region. Award-winning journalist David Braue has covered Australia’s IT and telecoms sectors since 1995 – and he’s as quick to draw le... Full Bio

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