The Apple TV has long languished as Apple's most-overlooked product. A serviceable smart box, it hits the right notes when it comes to pulling together iTunes movie purchases and streaming services. But it could be so much more, and gaming could be the key.
While the iPhone gets software overhauls and refreshed internals every year, Macs get Apple's own silicon to fuel their work days, and iPads get regular refreshes alongside handy Pencil and Magic Keyboard accessories, the Apple TV always feels like an afterthought. Take WWDC 2022, for instance: every other Apple platform got a giant software update showcase, while the tvOS platform that Apple TV is built upon didn't even get a mention.
For a little while there, the Apple TV looked to be rising on Apple's priority list. After a four-year gap between the 2017 and 2021 Apple TV 4K models, the 2021 edition saw a hefty upgrade that introduced the A12 Bionic processor, HDMI 2.1 support, and refresh rates of up to 60FPS. With Apple Arcade and Apple TV+ picking up steam at that point, it seemed like it was the Apple TV box's time to shine.
But the reality proved different. Even by 2021, the A12 Bionic was more than two years old and starting to show its age. More demanding Apple Arcade titles now have to scale down their performance profiles to meet the hardware's limitations, and new AAA titles like Diablo Immortal, as found on iPad and iPhone, fail to materialize in Apple TV form. Expanded controller support over Bluetooth helped give the illusion of a more console-like experience but relied on third-party hardware from the likes of Xbox and PlayStation. And the console's operating system software and storage capacities limited the potential of the box compared to what a modern gamer would expect, too — from cloud gaming and live streaming to the ability to store a larger chunk of the growing library of Arcade games on the Apple TV.
A new Apple TV in 2022?
But could change be on the horizon? According to noted Apple insider Mark Gurman, a new Apple TV is on the way, with a faster chip and more RAM, primed for gaming:
In his Power On newsletter, Gurman says, "The new Apple TV, code-named J255, is in development with an A14 chip and an additional gigabyte of RAM. That compares with the A12 chip announced as part of the 2021 Apple TV last year and could be useful for additional gaming capabilities rolling out in tvOS 16."
So what could this look like? While Apple may have been burned by its earlier home console attempt, 1996's Apple Pippin, the groundwork for a successful console has now been laid.
With Apple Arcade, Apple has established a vibrant and ever-growing library of unique and exclusive titles. Its all-you-can-eat, five-bucks-a-month proposition is at a pocket-money subscribe-and-forget subscription price point that encourages exploration by even the most casual gamer, and its multi-platform support is a crucial element that even Sony's recent PlayStation Plus revamp can't match. Whether you've got an iPhone, an iPad, a Mac, or an Apple TV box, you get the same access to all the same games, wherever you go, with robust cloud syncing across iCloud and Game Center.
It's not as if Apple has had any trouble attracting big-name name talent to Apple Arcade. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi brought his acclaimed Fantasian RPG exclusively to Apple Arcade. OutRun creator Yu Suzuki brought his reimagining of Space Harrier, Air Twister, exclusively to Apple Arcade just this month. Capcom re-imagined the Metroidvania for Apple Arcade with Shinsekai: Into the Depths, and brought Monster Hunter Stories to the service too. Will Wright, the creator of The Sims and the Steven Spielberg of game development, is bringing his next big game, Proxi, to Apple Arcade exclusively too.
It's the sort of talent that would make the gaming press sit up if it were tied to a PlayStation or Xbox. And the developers that work with Apple seem happy with the results too – one Apple Arcade developer who spoke to me (and wished to remain anonymous) said that, at least in the early days of Apple Arcade, Apple had been happy to throw money at left-field ideas they'd struggled to find funding for elsewhere. It's a similar sort of creative freedom (and deep pockets) that TV show creators are enjoying on Apple TV+.
The guts to game
All of this is what makes the hamstrung nature of the Apple TV box so frustrating. While there remains no worthy place for Apple Arcade in the living room in terms of hardware, those games will fail to meet the wider recognition they deserve, and gaming time will continue to be dominated by Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo. Keep in mind that such dominance from the 'big three' in gaming doesn't have to be guaranteed. Look to mobile (which perhaps surprisingly is actually the dominant platform among gamers in the U.S., according to YouGov), and the iPhone leads the pack.
The obvious temptation would be to fire up a new Apple TV box with an M2 chip inside. As evidenced by our 13-inch MacBook Pro with M2 chip review, Apple's latest silicon is a monster when it comes to graphics performance, and has the potential to be a very capable gaming option. With games like No Man's Sky and Resident Evil: Village showcased supporting the chip, that's home console power waiting to be unlocked. The problem there, of course, is that the M2 chip would come at a premium that the Apple TV's hardware pricing isn't currently designed to support. But even a jump to the iPhone's A15 bionic would be a significant step up, with enough power to drive Apple Arcade games to the fidelity and frame rates home console gamers now expect.
But it's not merely about power; it's about a commitment to a gaming ecosystem. The Apple TV needs improved gaming curation on its app store; Apple needs to commit to its own gaming accessories or buy up the likes of BackBone to do the job for them. Game Center needs sharing capabilities and integration with streaming platforms. And, in an ideal world, some investments in Mac gaming to include cloud streaming of AAA titles to the Apple TV box in the living room. A gamer can dream, right?
The groundwork is there, and the audience is proven and profitable. There's only so far Apple can push the Apple TV when it comes to streaming, but the sky's the limit when it comes to gaming.
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Gerald Lynch is the Editor-in-Chief of iMore, keeping careful watch over the site's editorial output and commercial campaigns, ensuring iMore delivers the in-depth, accurate and timely Apple content its readership deservedly expects. You'll never see him without his iPad Pro, and he loves gaming sessions with his buddies via Apple Arcade on his iPhone 14 Pro, but don't expect him to play with you at home unless your Apple TV is hooked up to a 4K HDR screen and a 7.1 surround system.
Living in London in the UK, Gerald was previously Editor of Gizmodo UK, and Executive Editor of TechRadar, and has covered international trade shows including Apple's WWDC, MWC, CES and IFA. If it has an acronym and an app, he's probably been there, on the front lines reporting on the latest tech innovations. Gerald is also a contributing tech pundit for BBC Radio and has written for various other publications, including T3 magazine, GamesRadar, Space.com, Real Homes, MacFormat, music bible DIY, Tech Digest, TopTenReviews, Mirror.co.uk, Brandish, Kotaku, Shiny Shiny and Lifehacker. Gerald is also the author of 'Get Technology: Upgrade Your Future', published by Aurum Press, and also holds a Guinness world record on Tetris. For real.