The home console market faces plenty of threats, but iOS isn't one of them
With Apple's iOS 5 off to a flying start - already installed on around one-third of devices capable of supporting it, according to figures released this week - pundits have been lining up to predict that the new software, along with the recently launched iPhone 4S, is the herald of the demise of the home console. Apple's new approach puts the writing on the wall for Sony and Microsoft; it's an arrow in the heart for Nintendo. Anyone still developing for those obsolete home console systems might as well pack up and go home.
The culprit for this hyperbole? A feature called Airplay Mirroring, initially available only on the iPad 2 but now rolled out as a core feature of iOS 5 and seemingly confirmed as basic functionality of future iOS devices, starting with the iPhone 4S. What it does is straightforward enough - hooking up to an Apple TV device connected to your living room television, it allows you to use the television as an external display.
The uses of this for gaming are fairly obvious, although no developer has yet managed to create anything remotely like a killer app for the functionality. Essentially, though, it's not a million miles away from what Nintendo is aiming for with the Wii U - a touchscreen device serving as controller for what's happening on screen. Given that iOS devices pack a touchscreen, an accelerometer, a microphone, a camera and a speaker as default, that's a fairly flexible controller - albeit still one lacking any buttons or sticks, of course. Moreover, the graphical fidelity of devices like the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2, while not quite challenging the HD consoles, is certainly in the same ball-park right now.
High-end iDevices start out at 16GB of storage, which isn't much more than the space being taken up by a single large game on PS3 or Xbox 360 right now.
So that's it, then? Game over for consoles? Just come home, collapse into the sofa, pull out your phone and start gaming on your HDTV?
Honestly, I don't buy that for a second. Airplay Mirroring is a nice feature, certainly, but it's primarily designed to allow people to show off photographs or watch movies on their televisions - and that's where it will excel. The concept of this replacing or even challenging the established markets of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo in gaming, however, is extremely far-fetched.
There are lots of problems with the idea of users turning to Airplay Mirroring games as a key part of their gaming diet. As mentioned above, there are no buttons or sticks on the device, making it into a fairly tricky sell as a controller for games where you're not actually looking at the screen you're touching. The distinct lack of major gaming franchises on the device is another problem, as is the question of storage - high-end iDevices start out at 16GB of storage, which isn't much more than the space being taken up by a single large game on PS3 or Xbox 360 right now. Then there's the basic question of assuming that your audience owns an Apple TV, a device which Steve Jobs himself described as being "just a hobby" for the company and which has largely failed to capture consumer imagination, or market share.
Ah, you may say, but this isn't about traditional games! It's about expanding the world of iOS games onto the living room television, not about moving existing console epics onto iOS. The assumption is that if you start crafting iOS games for the living room, they'll somehow bring with them the development economics, size-conscious approach and innovative control systems which have characterised successful iOS projects so far.