The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Friday, April 30, 2004

While perusing this NYTimes article on how videogame developers are starting to favor the Xbox over PlayStation2 (short version: Microsoft apparently has paid off a bunch of developers), I got to wondering why the console field is still limited to just Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. In my mind, if there was a traditional computer company that were institutionally inclined to enter the videogame hardware world, I'd have guessed it wouldn't have been Microsoft, but Apple.

When it comes to thinking outside the box, Cupertino beats Redmond practically every time. Apple has demonstrated with the iPod that it can roll out a market-dominating consumer electronic product. Plus, it's an avowed hardware maker; producing the Xbox was a step away from Microsoft's traditional software-only route (WebTV notwithstanding). Apple has been recognized as having more of an edge in the graphics/multimedia zone than Microsoft, which would be a solid base from which to develop gaming expertise. Apple would be motivated by a desire to diversify its business away from just personal computing, as was Microsoft.

So why no iBox from Apple? The console business is a tough one to crack, and pretty unforgiving to all but one or two entrants. Each generation of new consoles seems to claim a former king-of-the-hill as a victim: Atari was done in by Nintendo, Nintendo by Sega, Sega by Sony. Apple's position is solid in the second coming of Steve Jobs, but probably not enough so to commit massive resources in a battle for console marketshare.

I think there's also often a too-easily made connection between the computer and videogame industries, due to the common foundation in computing product. Despite the seemingly natural connection, the two businesses have rarely crossed: Atari was always seen as a consumer electronics company, which works in a totally different environment than computer makers and related businesses (as companies like Microsoft and Dell are now finding out, as they embark on televisions and other non-computer products). Even the current king of consoles, PlayStation2, comes from Sony, a premier consumer electronics company. Despite the success of the iPod, Apple would be treading into unknown territory with a console.

Still, it would be cool to see what a Mac-inspired game console would look like. If not a home-entertainment machine, maybe a game-centric iPod-like device would be the ticket. There's less competition there, with just Nintendo's Game Boy owning the handheld market (although maybe not for much longer, between the coming PlayStation Portable and various mobile phone hybrids). Perhaps the PowerPod would become reality after all.