On Monday, Apple unveiled its latest operating system, iOS7. A new feature that was hidden in the footnotes of the presentation is that iOS7 supports physical game controllers similar to those used with game consoles. The game controllers can be used with Airplay games – but could also be an indicator that Apple plans to make the Apple TV box a true game console.
Works with Airplay games
It makes little sense to sit in a sofa with a small mobile display and control a game with a game controller. But combine it with the Apple TV box and Airplay and you suddenly have a console-like game experience. Several iPad games already support Airplay gaming, including racing games, but today you have to use the iOS device as a game controller.
AirPlay enables up to four players to play games on a TV via the Apple TV box
In the past, Apple has not supported physical game controllers but that will change with iOS7. Apple has announced an API that lets game developers code games for use with game controllers. Apple has also made game controllers part of its MFi license program that currently allows manufacturers to build and sell official iPod docks or Airplay speakers, In short, it means that accessories manufacturers, such as those developing game controllers for PlayStation and Xbox, will be able to sell certified game controllers for use with Apple’s iOS devices.
With iOS7, Apple starts supporting a standardized game controller. Here you see the specification sent out to developers
Apple seems to take the same route as Sony and Microsoft have taken with the game controllers for PlayStation and Xbox. Apple’s developer documents describe a game controller with two analog joysticks, four buttons on the right, arrows on the left and two or four buttons on top. We hear that there are some prototypes on the WWDC floors these days.
Could be an indicator of Apple’s future plans
That Apple has made so significant changes with iOS7 starts a lot of speculation. Some believe that it is a piece of a larger puzzle in which the Apple TV box – or even a real TV from Apple – could get TV apps. The Apple TV box already runs a modified version of iOS.
If TV apps were to come to the Apple TV platform, combined with support for game controllers, the market for iOS TV games could explode in a similar manner to what has happened with mobile games. The Apple TV box obviously lacks the horsepower of dedicated video game consoles but the power-efficient graphics processors in mobile devices are becoming more powerful, fast. The graphics processor in iPad 4 can handle almost 80 gigaflop per second (the iPad 1 handles about 3 gigaflop per second). By comparison, the Xbox 360 handles 240 gigaflop per second.
It is not implausible that the Apple TV platform could evolve into a game console, in addition to its other roles. At least it seems that Apple has taken the first step with support for game controllers.