Now may finally be the time for an Apple gaming console

The company wouldn’t even have to try all that much – here’s why and how it could be done


It’s been discussed extensively, it became widely known as an April Fool’s joke, but the hypothetical “iPlay” – a gaming console for the living room made by Apple – would actually make more sense than ever now. (Image: IGN)


The truly great thing about tech is that, by getting better all the time, it naturally opens up new possibilities for manufacturers and consumers alike. Take Apple’s excellent M series of processors, for instance: these were based on the company’s work on the A series chips, the ones powering iPhones and iPads for over a decade, but have gradually found their way into anything from ultra portable tablets or laptops to ultra powerful AI server farms. It’s clear to all that Apple designed these chips to be both flexible and scalable, so no surprises there – but what if this advantage was leveraged to allow the company explore new consumer target groups?

Gamers, mainstream and hardcore alike, are one such target group. Theories and rumors about Apple entertaining the idea of creating a home entertainment system capable of delivering video game experiences comparable to those of a PlayStation or have been around for years, but none of them led to anything concrete – despite the fact that the company did make a number of moves that could have easily been interpreted as preparative for such a product. Yours truly published a story about that prospect back in 2021 because, simply put, Apple’s M1 processor was the first of its kind capable of powering a variety of different product types, including a games console. Others have offered similar views on the matter over the years, but all opinions or speculation seemed to not impress Apple in the slightest.

This was then, though. The recently released M4 processor and a number of changes happening on the software side of Apple’s ecosystem – as well as a few key changes in the gaming landscape as a whole – all create a much more favorable situation for a gaming console bearing the company’s logo. Here’s why.

Apple silicon finally powerful enough for living room gaming

Even before the advent of the M series of chips, Apple’s A series – the one iPhones and iPads were based on – could perform admirably when it came to gaming: some of the most beautiful, most impressive mobile games of the last decade can be found on the App Store, proving that developers had already found ways to deliver spectacular titles on Apple’s hardware. But those were – most of them still are – mobile games as opposed to console games: they were designed to look good and perform well on a relatively small iPhone screen or modestly large iPad screen, as opposed to a 65- or 75- or larger television screen.

Assassin’s Creed: Shadows will be out for Apple silicon products – iPad and Mac models alike – in November, along with the expected home console and PC versions of the game. An Apple “iPlay” version of it would be easy to put together. (Image: Ubisoft)


The M4 processor can change that. Apple’s latest and greatest is able to deliver true console-level, high-quality games – even actual console games such as Assassin’s Creed, Resident Evil and Death Stranding – at up to 120 frames per second, at near-4K resolution. What’s more, it can do that today on an unbelievably thin device without any active cooling, such as the impressive and totally silent iPad Pro 11/13. It would not be hard for Apple to use the same chip, helped by active cooling and a more spacious chassis, in order to extract even more performance in the same power envelope. An M4-powered gaming console like that would be much, much smaller than a PlayStation or Xbox, while consuming considerably less power (always a plus for several reasons).

What’s more, the M4 inside an Apple gaming console would already feature machine learning capabilities like those that Sony and Microsoft are now racing to implement. It would be relatively easy for developers to use this processor’s NPU for upscaling or frame generation, closing the performance gap between such a product and a gaming PC. The M4 offers other advanced features too – like ray tracing, dynamic caching and mesh shading – that would further help such a gaming machine offer modern, visually impressive video games regardless of them being developed exclusively for it or being multi-platform affairs created by the world’s biggest publishers.

Software possibilities and pricing scenarios

Having a hardware platform powerful enough for modern video games is only part of the equation, obviously, but Apple has also done a lot of work on the software front since the M1 came along. Not only are there plenty more AAA games available (and new ones regularly getting released) for Apple silicon Macs, but countless developers now have the option of creating Mac versions of their iPhone/iPad games with relative ease and there’s even a recently upgraded Apple Game Porting Kit for helping them bring x86 Windows games across to macOS more effectively than ever.

A hypothetical Apple iPlay would cost quite a bit more than $149, obviously, but if the company truly means to offer such a product as part of its overall strategy long-term, then it could hit a $499-$599 price point with ease. (Image: Omid Armin, Unsplash)


Consumers purchasing a hypothetical Apple iPlay gaming console, in other words, would have a wide selection of games to choose from if the company announced such a product early enough for developers and publishers big and small to bring their titles on that platform by launch. Apple is doing the certification work on macOS/iOS/iPadOS games for the App Store anyway, so that would not actually require of the company to introduce totally new processes it’s not already familiar with. Plus, the work required for controller support is already done for most of the popular console joypads – in addition to any and all joypads that are MFi certified – so a hypothetical iPlay would not even have to come with a controller included.

While that last point might seem irrelevant, it might not be in the context of possible price brackets a hypothetical iPlay device should strive to hit. See, even when taking the infamous Apple Tax into account, such a system would have to cost not a penny more than the most expensive PlayStation or Xbox model available: even if it deserved it, in terms of both capabilities and potential, it wouldn’t be able to justify the price difference. It’s just optics. Unless, of course, the iPlay was able to do more than just offer video games for the living room TV… which would complicate things considerably, if not unnecessarily.

Would such a device ever cost “just” $599/€599 or even $499/€499, though? It’s possible: the 11-inch iPad Pro costs $999/€999, so one could imagine a similar device with a cheaper chassis and no screen, battery, cameras or speakers costing half as much. An iPlay hitting that $499/€499 pricing target would most probably not be offering Apple the kind of profit margins the company enjoys with its Mac computers or iPhone smartphones. It would not have to, though, as there are several other reasons why Apple should seriously consider pursuing this – besides revenue – like the following.

Why Apple should do this sooner rather than later

A hypothetical high-quality iPlay device would primarily be about broadening the appeal of the Apple ecosystem and creating new revenue streams for the company. It could potentially attract any number of consumers that do not necessarily consider themselves hardcore or even mainstream gamers, but are interested in everything Apple does and would be open to giving its gaming device a go. Then it’s safe to assume that Apple would strive to include at least a couple of unique selling points to this system’s list of features, in an effort to get the attention of consumers who do see themselves as gamers but open to try something a little different to what the PlayStation or the Xbox offer.

An Apple gaming system for the living room would offer certain advantages over, say, a PlayStation or an Xbox from day one. The only question is: does the company (Image: Apple)


Then there are a few million consumers who are fiercely loyal to Apple: those would be interested in picking up an iPlay as a top-notch entertainment/media player device too – an advanced Apple TV, so to speak, capable of more. Last but not least? Those hundreds of millions of people who own an iPhone, iPad or Mac: those would be able to play a game in the living room with an iPlay, continue playing it while out and about on their smartphone or tablet, even give it a go on their computer without losing their progress, content and customization in said game (iCloud would make sure of that). That’s something both Sony and Microsoft are interested in pulling off too, but Apple is uniquely position to do that because of its vast success in other product categories and the necessary infrastructure that’s already in place.

Not only would a hypothetical iPlay drive more sales of games than ever before in the App Store, it would also help the Mac improve its position as a mainstream general purpose computer (its limited native games library is still considered one of its extremely few true weaknesses) and even give Apple Arcade and Apple TV Plus subscriptions a boost (they both desperately need it). Gaming systems happen to be the kind of products that benefit from significant advances in their core tech, so one could easily imagine a line of iPlay devices including the latest premium model and a previous-gen one offered at a more affordable price, both being upgraded over time as Apple’s M-series of processors evolves (different storage options would obviously be available too).

A gaming system of console-like functionality may not be the kind of product that would bring in iPhone-like profits for Apple, but it’s the kind of product what would meaningfully expand the company’s ecosystem and product portfolio going forward. It could be tied to the lower-cost Apple Vision product that’s in development (it’s rumored to need an external processing unit), it would easily be the most capable entertainment set-top box available (oh the wealth of apps it would offer from the get go), it could even work as an advanced smart home hub (its low power requirements that would allow it to be always on).

Such a product would just make sense in so many ways for Apple, but would the company be willing to sacrifice its usual, high profit margins for a device of strategic value? That’s another matter entirely.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kostas Farkonas

Veteran reporter with over 30 years of industry experience in various media, focusing on consumer tech, entertainment and digital culture. No, he will not fix your PC (again).

Veteran reporter with over 30 years of industry experience in various media, focusing on consumer tech, entertainment and digital culture. No, he will not fix your PC (again).

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