Apple’s Gaming Console Will Fail*

* According to the Jacksonville Observer.

The Bandai Pippin (from Wikipedia)
The Bandai Pippin (from Wikipedia)

It’s obvious really, they failed before in partnership with Bandai. Surely you remember that! And it was all Steve Jobs’s fault, too. And after all, didn’t Apple fail spectacularly with the iPhone after producing the abysmal ROCKR in partnership with Motorola?

Motorola ROCKR
Motorola's ROCKR. Not even the staunchest Apple fanboys had anything nice to say about it.

Of course the game precedent is so much worse, since it’s more recent, and Apple’s partner in that exercise had a market dominating product in that category already. Not like Motorola who were mere wannabes with no real experience in the sector. Oh wait, it’s the other way around.

Apple has a successful game platform already.

The question is merely how to leverage it. One thing we can be virtually certain of — Apple will not release a “game console”. Even the game console companies don’t release game consoles any more. Even the Wii and DS have web browsers. The PSP was sold from the beginning as a portable entertainment center (which required you to buy new copies of everything in a useless format).

Apple wins when it changes the rules, and Apple knows this. What they do is find something, or a bunch of things, that people want and which the market either fails to provide or provides incompetently, and they bundle it up, package it beautifully, and produce a widget that transcends the sum of the things it replaces. And by the way, that applies to every major Apple product line including the Apple II and the Macintosh.

As an interesting aside: one way in which Apple has changed the rules (already) in the games industry is the financial model. Apple makes money on the gadget, and pretty much breaks even on content. This allows developers to get rich on $5 games. Microsoft and Sony lose money on the gadget and (if they’re lucky) make money by taking a huge cut of the games. Now they’re all scrambling to provide App Store clones with $5 games, but when you’re hemorrhaging money on the handle, discounting blades is possibly not the best long-term strategy.

Before the Apple II, personal computers were electronics projects. No two ran the same software. You had to know how to read a circuit diagram and use a soldering iron to get to the point where you could start programming them (popular computers of the time required expansion cards to hook up a keyboard or display). Then Apple released a computer that you plugged in, turned on, and just worked.¬†Before the Mac, PCs were at best a complicated device for running a spreadsheet program. The Mac shipped — version one — ¬†with pretty much today’s desktop experience modulo Moore’s law, including a WYSIWYG word-processor you could learn in five minutes and a graphics program which is the direct forebear of Photoshop.

If you visit a Bose store or Radio Shack or — before it went bankrupt — The Sharper Image, what you see are stores that used to sell standalone products, but which turned into iPod (and later iPhone) accessory stores. If your stereo system doesn’t have an iPod dock today most people have pretty much no use for it.

It’s odd that AppleTV didn’t do the obvious thing and provide TiVo-like DVR functions. I imagine that one day we’ll find out that either (a) they couldn’t because it would have threatened iTunes (TiVo doesn’t have to negotiate music rights deals with many of the same people it’s screwing by letting users skip TV ads) or (b) it was a Steve Jobs thing (“TV is shit” or somesuch).

I know (or think I know) why iTunes doesn’t rip DVDs the way it rips CDs. Aside from all the obvious technical and legal reasons, Apple probably doesn’t want to be fighting movie studios over the DMCA while simultaneously bludgeoning Psystar with the very same (stupid) law.

So, Apple’s ability to turn everyone who makes living room electronics (other than flat screens) into AppleTV accessory vendors has been thwarted thus far in large part by legal issues. Of course, it’s Apple’s willingness to navigate thorny rights issues that allowed it to become such a huge force in the Music Industry in less than ten years, so it’s still a little surprising that they haven’t made more headway.

But if Apple could turn the Apple TV into a game changer in some other way — e.g. by letting customers play tens of thousands of games most of which are less than $5 and can be bought online as impulse purchases — well that might have a shot. If this new gizmo used iPods and iPhones as remotes and/or game controllers, well that’s just gravy. You already have your music on the iPod, and you already have your games on the iPhone. Apple has even negotiated rights to allow your music to be streamed, loaded on multiple machines, and so forth. Now if this same gizmo were integrated with Hulu and Netflix and Amazon…

Remember Steve Jobs’s introduction of the iPhone? Is there any reason why this product couldn’t also be portable and roughly the size of a small tablet computer?