Gaming Could Be Apple TV’s Killer App

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The new Apple TV is already a hit, having sold more than 1 million units in just three months after its release, but the device could become even more popular if it becomes a hub for social games.

New code in the next version of Apple TV’s operating system hints at gaming capabilities being added — which could lure in a whole new fan base for the broadband set-top box, and could create a whole new revenue stream for Apple. Engadget reports that new code in the iOS 4.3 beta firmware has references to “ATVGames” and “ATVThunder,” which could make it not just a streaming device but a gaming device as well.

Social gaming is already incredibly popular on other iOS devices, to the tune of 19 million users spending more than 22 minutes per day using gaming apps on their iPhones, iPads and iPhone touch devices. That’s on par with the number of viewers for popular TV programs such as Sunday Night Football and Dancing with the Stars, suggesting there could be more of an audience for games on Apple TV than for actual video viewing.

But while the introduction of new apps has been widely anticipated, creating games for the Apple TV presents a few challenges. For one thing, the device only has 8 GB of onboard memory, which isn’t really enough for a hardcore gamer to locally store a wide variety of gaming apps. That suggests that games could be limited in their functionality to start, or it’s possible that Apple TV game processing could happen in the cloud and be streamed via broadband.

The other holdback could be the Apple TV’s controller. While its minimalist design is fairly good for navigating video content on the Apple TV, it seems like it would serve less well as a gaming controller. One solution, which my colleague Darrell Etherington has suggested in the past, is to use the iPhone or iPad as controlling devices for gaming that’s displayed on the big screen, eliminating the need for a new controller.

All that said, it’s pretty clear that games will soon be coming to the Apple TV; now it’s just a question of where the processing will happen — whether it be on the device or on the cloud — and how games will be controlled.

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