Since the introduction of Apple's iPhone/iPod Touch App Store the company has been snatching up a large chunk of the handheld game market.
Despite supporting gaming apps on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, Steve Jobs is notorious for his lack of interest in directly developing hardware to compete with console manufacturers like Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony. But what if all he had to do was add gaming functionality to already existing devices - such as the Apple TV.
Engadget is reporting that the latest developer beta of the upcoming iOS update 4.3 includes functionality that could allow the Apple TV to support online gaming.
Much of the report is speculation, based on some ambiguous code references, "ATVGames" and "ATVThunder," that might mean the Apple TV platform could support a game store, external controllers, Game Center-like leaderboards, and multiplayer scheduling.
The report also speculates that, given the Apple TV's low local storage capacity, the platform would rely on a streaming format similar to OnLive.
Check out a screen-grab of the infamous iOS 4.3 code below:
While it's unlikely that we'll see a comprehensive Apple gaming console simply through the iOS 4.3 update, the coding certainly hints that Apple is working on building a framework that will allow developers to create full-fledged modern gaming experiences on the Apple TV - or a similar device in the near future. It's certainly possible that Apple will even include a larger local storage offering, in a future refreshed build of the Apple TV, that would allow for games to be stored directly on the device - enabling offline play as well as game experiences that rely on larger assets (experiences that would be too big to stream through an average internet connection).
The genius of Apple, as a business, is the robust toolset they've created for developers, through innovative hardware devices and software platforms - allowing developers to stretch products even further. With every new feature that's announced for the new iPhone or iPad, there are hundreds of developers who will scramble to do something really interesting - a point Forbes Magazine recently mentioned as well.
It's doubtful that Steve Jobs has had a change of heart about developing a video game console but, especially given the fact that current consoles are media centers (not just video game boxes), it makes complete sense that Apple would be positioning the Apple TV as a premium all-in-one entertainment platform (music, photos, movies, and games all in one device). Plus, combined with a low entry price of $99 and the already existent iOS install base, it's not hard to imagine that big name developers, as well as smaller indie studios that have made a name in the App Store, wouldn't love to develop larger game experiences for a non-handheld market.
Let's face it, it's pretty incredible what developers have already been able to do with the iPhone:
Then again, the mysterious iOS 4.3 code may simply be hinting at current bite-sized games such as Angry Birds or Cut the Rope soon becoming available in an uber-HD upgrade (similar to the recent PS3 version) - to be played on a flat-screen near you via the Apple TV.