Why the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and AirPlay are killing dedicated gaming devices

The intersection of people who love mobile and who love gaming is significant enough to have generated a ton of commentary surrounding the idea that traditional, dedicated gaming devices will be cannibalized by the likes of the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and AirPlay. Horace Dediu had a couple of interesting posts on the subject this weekend. In Third to a Billion, which included the above graphic, Dediu plots which platforms have reached a billion users and how long it took each to do so. From Asymco:

Android is the third platform to reach a billion users[1] . The first was Windows and the second was Facebook. Apple sold around 650 to 700 million iOS and is expected to be the fourth to a billion sometime next year.[2]

He notes Android is based on activations, but should correlate to users, that Windows took more than 10 years to reach the number, that both social (Facebook) and mobile (Android and iOS) have been much faster, and that iTunes accounts aren't curving off, at least not yet. What this shows, relative to mobile's impact on gaming, is the subject of a second post, Game Over. Asymco

That is where mobile is the clear winner. More people will hire mobile devices for their primary gaming activity. And as mobile devices get inexorably better, they will be hired for use in the setting where consoles have been king: the living room.The implications are that Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are beyond the point of no return in this industry. Gaming, as a business, cannot be sustained as a platform independent of a general purpose computer. Like other "applications" that used to have systems built around them conforming to their needs[3] the dedicated-purpose solutions came to be absorbed into the general-purpose platforms. And the modern general purpose computer is the smartphone.[4]

There he notes that dedicated word processors, calculators, video editing boxes, music players, etc. faced the same challenge, and were reduced to niche status or subsumed entirely. PCs, on the other hand, couldn't do to gaming what mobile could because they were neither extremely portable for on the go, nor projectable for the living room. iPhone and AirPlay are.

As mobile devices get more powerful, and projection technology gets even better, the pressure on dedicated gaming devices increases. We've seen that story play out before. Sony a least produces mobile devices of their own, though their efforts to tie in real PSP-level gaming into their Android handsets have been kludgy at best. Microsoft, now buying Nokia, is positioned to do likewise but they've failed to even attempt to launch an Xbox portable and Windows Phone gaming has lagged a generation behind where it should be. Nintendo knows both console and portable, but has no experience in general purpose computing.

Apple and Google, meanwhile have shown no signs of "getting" gaming but managed to fall ass-backwards into their growing mobile gaming dominance. That shouldn't give game platforms hope. That should scare the hell out of them.

Source: Asymco, Asymco

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • completely agree, so why aren't apple streaming our previous game purchases we've bought for mac made through the app store using iCloud through apple tv etc eg onlive etc like we can stream through apple tv our movies and music bought through itunes at the moment??? as has previous been written about so many times by so many.
  • If you already have a mac, and an Apple TV, what's the point of doing that?
    You can stream your mac to your TV locally anyway.
  • yes, you can stream it to your TV locally using airplay. but what happens if for example your apple tv is downstairs plugged into your main tv and your mac for example is upstairs or in any other room?!?!?! cause I'm not running up and down the stairs just to press the button for "fire your weapons". i might get some exercise in but... ok, i think ive made my point and you can stream the games anywhere where you can find a internet connection and sign in using your apple id. if you havent got the jist by now what im saying, then check below: http://www.cultofmac.com/176995/why-apple-should-start-streaming-games/ no need to set up new game studios, upgrade maybe required for the apple tv to stream mac games previously bought from the app store, but thats about it, massive opportunity for apple to make more and knock ms and sony out of their tree
  • so succinctly put. imagine having access to all your games you've ever bought on the app store/itunes streamed to your apple tv or any idevice using any internet/network connection at work or at home or anywhere, signing in just using your apple id... so its the same as using your apple tv to play and STREAM your itunes music or movies purchases on your apple tv
  • I'm usually against large accusations but I really think Apple has a opportunity here. I'd love to see them buy a large video game development house and develop not just games but iOS /OSX game engines to make the development of games on their platforms that much easier. As for which company to buy I have no idea. Out of all of them, I think Blizzard Entertainment has the closest culture to Apple. They don't ship till its ready and usually neither does Apple.
  • No way Activison will ever let Blizzard go.
  • I'm not even saying Blizzard is the acquisition Apple should make but I think from a strategic point of view a game engine would make sense. Cut the cost for the developers and you'll get higher quality games on your platform.
  • Your original comment read IMO that you were recommending Apple purchase a game developer; not license their technology. Which also wouldn't be of much use to Apple as they have no in house game studio to use a game engine to make games.
  • Sorry I'm still not clear, I think they should purchase a game developer for the talent and technology. I just wanted to clarify that Blizzard was just the first company that came to mind I'm not sure if it would be the best developer to purchase to achieve this goal.
  • the chart on the left has an interesting scale as at first look it makes it look like the AppleTV is doing ok, then you realize it's a log scale. I'm also surprised he ignores JavaVM (feature phones). The other odd fact that Dediu/iMore ignores is the rise of Symbian and Blackberry. The title of this article could easily be; Blackberry and Symbian are killing dedicated gaming devices. It's still humorous to see yet another Nintendo is doomed article.
  • As things stand now, the iPad, nor iPhone can replace my Vita and 3DS for games. When a universal iPad controllers start to be released, that will be a "game" changer but not quite enough to deliver the death blow. Sadly, I think portable game systems will eventually be a thing of the past but these all around devices still can't deliver my thirst for "real" games like the dedicated players can.
  • Many years ago, it seemed the game techcos must inherit everything: their devices were smaller, lighter, brighter, faster, and more graphically sophisticated than PCs. Then inertia set in; they never looked, so they never saw that everything that rises must converge (Flannery O'Connor). Ain't that the way of it.
  • Is the assumption that, due to the adoption rate of mobile devices, people will be satisfied with mobile games and have no need for console games? To me, that's like saying the people with a Game Boy had no need for the NES. So, if consoles are dead, where will AAA games go? Not even AAA games, but games designed to be played on a bigger screen with a controller. Are they dead too? The App Store definitely won't support them at $0.99. Are you forced to make Gears of War freemium or die? PC is an option that I don't see console gamers converting to. Basically, I think there's still room for consoles. Apple will need to come out with an Apple TV with a controller to take play in this market, which basically justify consoles. They will have to make sure the economy of their Apple TV App Store for games supports more than $0.99. They can probably do this just like they charge more for iPad apps. They'll also have to compete on price for the Apple TV, and provide an experience greater or on par with what Sony and Microsoft are about to deliver. If Gamecenter is any indication, they have some work to do.
  • This is where I am at right now. Sure mobile games are fun for 10-20 minutes here or there. But they are no where near the realm of sitting down for hours. Nor do they approach the quality of AAA console titles. I kind of feel like gaming might be headed where Steven Spielberg suggested movies are headed awhile back. There will be relative few big budget titles in the coming years. But they will still have their place among the other small releases. I enjoy my short spurts of mobile gaming. But I just can't envision playing GTA:V on any device other than my console + HDTV and getting the same amount of enjoyment and satisfaction out of the experience.
  • Exactly games aren't just games. There is a huge difference between playing a game on my iPhone and AAA games on console and PC. The iPad can't even touch the quality of PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS games. Yes the market on smartphones/tablets is bigger but most of the people buying those devices didn't buy them for gaming. Quality games made by the big third parties as well as first party studios owned by Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony aren't coming to iPad any time soon. Until that happens Apple isn't killing game consoles.
  • Tomorrow will definitelly be an important day for change. I have bought an external controller, the DUO, that works well with a couple of Gameloft games, but iOS 7 will probably set the start of universal controllers. Also important on using AirPlay with an Apple TV is that N networks are not fast enough for HD games, but laptops and routers from apple are already ac and I hope that tomorrow this will be anounced on the iphone as well. ac wifi network devices and external controllers will set the beginning of the end for dedicated machines.
  • I couldn't disagree with this article more. If iOS devices are killing dedicated consoles how come the PS4 has more preorders than any Playstation ever released? It doesn't sound like they're dying to me. $0.99-$4.99 iOS games and $60 AAA console or PC games aren't even competing for the same market. Angry Birds/Infinite Blade etc... aren't replacing Halo, Call of Duty, Battlefield etc... These aren't the same gamers. Yes there are tons of people playing mobile games but many of them aren't even the same people who play console and PC games. One doesn't have to kill the other. There is plenty of room for both to exist.
  • You can play Grand Theft Auto on your iOS device.
  • Yes Grand Theft Auto 3 which came out 12 years ago on PS2. I can't play Grand Theft Auto IV that came out 5 years ago on current consoles let alone Grand Theft Auto V coming out next week. If 12 year old games from old outdated consoles is your idea of gaming than go ahead but you aren't going to get more hard core gamers to drop their consoles for it.
  • I'd love to see a chart on graphics performance growth of consoles compared to the current crop of mobile phones. Is it trending toward our cell phones becoming more powerful in the next 10 years before Sony and Microsoft upgrade their consoles again?
  • But who wants to, when PS's and XBox's are available?
  • iOS (and, to a lesser extent, Android) are taking a huge bite out of gaming, but AirPlay is a complete non-factor, at least so far. Dedicated mobile gaming platforms are being devastated because, even if their games are better, they are not better *enough* to justify purchasing and carrying a separate dedicated device for their intended use case -- typically short bursts of play, often when travelling or killing time. Consoles (so far) are a different story. To the target market, console games are so far superior to iOS games that the comparison is silly. People specifically buy consoles to have a powerful, immersive game experience that iPhones/iPads are not going to be able to provide anytime soon. To those who say "once Apple has a dedicated controller, watch out" -- that is not the only problem. It is that iPhones/iPads do not (yet) have the hardware to push out a high frame rate and 7:1 sound that a console can. It is that the assets (models, textures, and sound) of a single AAA title like Call of Duty literally take up the *entire* storage space of a 16GB iPad. So AirPlay is a non-factor for gamers, and is likely to remain so for years. While AirPlay itself is irrelevant, iOS is still hurting consoles, because it offers a compelling *non-game* entertainment experience. Consoles have always competed for our limited attention with movies, TV, and the internet. While iPhones/iPads may not have been the first way to get the internet in the living room, they certainly kicked the door down in terms of letting users screw around on the internet, anytime, anywhere. Consoles are losing mass mindshare not because iOS has great games - and certainly not because of AirPlay gaming - but because they give us quick, easy, and desirable alternatives to gaming.
  • I agree with most of what you posted. I disagree with the part about dedicated mobile gaming platforms being devastated. Tell that to Nintendo. They are making a killing off the 3DS. Their 3DS sales are great enough to keep them in good shape even with their underpowered Wii U flopping. iOS and Android games just don't have the depth to compete with 3DS and Vita games quality wise. iOS makes more money because they a huge market of owners carrying them around every day. People who want quality games continue to prefer handheld and home consoles to iOS games. Many own both because smartphones and tablets are useful for every day life. I love video games. I play just about every day between my PS3, 360, PS Vita and home built gaming PC. I have a PS4 preorder in too. I also own an iPhone 5 and iPad 4 but can't remember the last time I played a game on either. They are missing all the major games and developers. The quality level just isn't there.
  • It all died for me when I had to continue my Xbox Live Subscription to even USE my Netflix subscription on my xbox. F that. My xbox has been sitting on the floor collecting dust for more than a year now.
  • I agree that you shouldn't buy $400-$500 consoles to watch Netflix. Especially not Xbox which requires an Xbox Live account. You can get a $50 roku for that or spend $100 on an Apple TV or Bluray player with streaming apps built in. Netflix on consoles is more of a side benefit for gamers who own them than a reason to buy the console. People bought PS3 when it was new for Bluray when the players were ridiculously expensive. That won't be a valid reason to buy a $400 PS4 or a $500 Xbox One when bluray players are available under $100 now. If you're not a gamer the new consoles aren't for you. If you are a gamer fremium-$5 smartphone games are never going to replace a console or gaming PC and AAA games. Even most of the popular small indie games aren't making their way to iOS. This is because they know that those iOS gamers don't support that type of game.
  • This bothered me too. It's a huge plus of the PS4 that you don't have to pay a subcription to use the apps like netflix.
  • A dedicated portable gaming device is a uni-tasker. When you stop playing games on it, it's dead weight. A smartphone or iPod that plays games is a multi-tasker. More value, more utility, and more portable. Even worse, smartphones are so ubiquitous now that consumers aren't thinking "portable game device brand x *or* brand y *or* brand z." It's "which portable game device to I want in addition to the smartphone that I already have." It's an *and* value decision, not an *or*. And, as Gruber has pointed out recently, the *and* sales are much harder to get than the *or* sales. Thus, it's not just TV-anchored game consoles that are legacy devices. Uni-tasking portable game devices are also legacy old-school hardware. (And anyway, gaming is all about the games. Not about the specific hardware. Just like in the even older PC gaming market.)
  • I agree with a lot of this too. Smartphones are more useful devices because they do everything. Because of that they are much more likely to be in your pocket at any given time. I agree that gaming is about the games not the devices too. That is where you made the point for handheld and home consoles though. That's where the quality games live, not iOS. People who want to play Nintendo quality games don't want to play whatever generic games exist on iPad. It's just not the same experience.
  • There is a slight disconnect between your first and last paragraphs, and it is in that gap gaming devices will succeed (or fail). "When you stop playing games on it, it's dead weight" "And anyway, gaming is all about the games" If that single tasking device provides a unique or superior experience customers demand, it will not only survive, but thrive, even in the face of capable generalist devices. It is for that reason that consoles are not threatened as much as handhelds, because your Xbox/PS3 title is so *far* above what a tablet or smartphone can offer that the gamer market will not shift, barring some unforseen and drastic improvement in the capabilities of tablets. The market may shrink, but it will not be because of tablet games, and it will not disappear. Handhelds, as you correctly point out, are far more threatened because of the *and* vs *or* consideration, but also because, for short bursts of play, Cooking Mama is simply not that much more fun than PvZ 2 to justify buying a DS when you have a perfectly playable generalist iPhone in your pocket. But it is for that unique experience factor that Nintendo is not likely to port its crown jewels to iOS, despite the curious noise from the Apple blogosphere. Those crown jewel titles *are* the in-demand experience that drives demand for Nintendo systems. Next month, the release of Pokemon Y at $40 will generate more revenue than a year of Mario Kart iOS at $6.99 would, and by itself it will trigger a huge number of 3DS sales, creating a bit of a halo effect for the company in a way releasing games on another system never could. Gruber would scoff that Nintendo is merely on the horns of an innovator's dilemma here, and they need to be willing to knife their current revenue stream to stay relevant in the future. But that only applies if you believe Nintendo is no longer capable of creating unique, in-demand experiences, and Pokemon Y, Mario, and their ilk are only coasting on the nostalgia of older gamers. I do not know enough about the demographics of DS/Wii buyers to say, but unless Nintendo lost all their skill with Miyamoto's retirement, it seems premature to count them out.
  • I don't see any evidence iphone, ipad, apple tv etc are replacing consoles. I don't think that argument is made. For that you need people forgoing one for the other and i don't see that argument made anywhere above. This seems to ignore the fact that activations do not equal game players. Plenty of people by phones and don't play games. It also ignores the type of gaming those players may do. I have games on my phone, words with friends & chess and some other games. I don't have an mmo or a multiplayer shooter with rankings etc. Those looking for the robust multiplayer experience of a COD or halo or the adult entertainment of a Saint's Row or the depth of a GTA5 aren't going to get that playing candy crush. I mean you can look at those specific games that are on both platforms. Are people dumping their xbox because COD Ghost on an iphone is better or at least good enough? No. Because it's not. Is anyone dumping their PS3 Madden for ios Madden. No. And the experience and actual games are different. The only people that think the experience is the same doesn't actually game. And there is a totally false assumption by phone enthusiasts that somehow this is a zero sum game; that a phone game and console gaming are mutually exclusive. There is no evidence of that. The world is full of people that do both and do both for different reasons.
  • I wont let this happen stay away
  • As smartphones, tablets and other platforms evolved, I do think Nintendo will be the first to go. PlayStation and Xbox will survive for a long time. iPod touch, iphone and iPad will end Nintendo as we know it. Nintendo needs to get 3rd party games in their camp like PS4 and xbox 1 have them, otherwise, Nintendo will eventually lose casual players and kids under 13. Even if Apple has its box or TV with apps, PS4 and Xbox will still dominate. No third party developer who spent millions on a game with have it on Apple TV unless Apple allows them to charge 60 dollars. If so, then it is just another player in the game console world. Developers are not going to make expensive games for 7 dollars or less.