Why the AppleTV isn’t such a new concept for Apple…

Although Apple have for some time had games available for the iPod many people have wondered if Apple would release games that would be playable on the Mac itself. Although not always considered the greatest gaming platform, due to the smaller amount of games available, the Mac has never the less had some great mainstream games available. But Apple has never developed any games itself for the Mac.

Picture of Apple's Pippin games consoleIf you’re new to the Mac platform you may not be aware that Apple has in fact dabbled in the gaming market before, just not for the Mac itself!

Apple actually developed a games console in the mid 1990s called ‘Pippin‘, it was intended to be a platform that they would license to third parties instead of releasing it themselves.

Unfortunately it wasn’t very successful due to the more powerful Playstation 1 and Nintendo 64 which were available at the time. Bandai were the only games company who licenced the Pippin and they only sold a few thousand units at the time.

It’s interesting that a licencing model was the goal for the Pippin as it was at this time that Apple also ran their first and only official Mac Clone program which allowed other companies to develop and sell their own hardware which was capable of running the Mac OS.

Another interesting thing about the Pippin is that it ran a cut down version of Mac OS as it’s operating system, if you’re familiar with the buzz around Apple’s latest release the AppleTV and the upcoming iPhone then you’ll know that they both1 run essentially a cut-down version of Mac OSX.

The AppleTV – Mk I?

Picture ofthe Apple Interactive Television BoxAnother perhaps little known fact is that Apple have also developed a prototype set-top box for delivering interactive TV once before. Simply known as the ‘Apple Interactive Television Box‘ this device preceded the Pippin by 1 or 2 years, it was never actually released for sale though and was cancelled at a very late stage of development.

Although far from having the capabilities of the AppleTV it does show that Apple have had a long standing interest in becoming part of the home entertainment ecosystem within people’s houses.

It was likely that this unit was intended to deliver content via the cable providers of the time such as standard TV shows but allowing play and pause functionality. The intention was also to provide interactive content in the form of quiz shows and educational content.

The seeds of an idea, but not time for harvest

Both of these concepts had some interesting ideas at the core, but due to bad timing they never amounted to anything. It’s interesting to note that both of these concepts were developed during the period in Apple’s history when Steve Jobs was not in the company, whether these concepts would have been developed under Steve Jobs’ leading is hard to say, but the previously mentioned Mac Clones program was swiftly closed down upon his return to the company in late 1997. I think it likely the Pippin and Interactive Television Box would not have seen the light of day.

Picture of AppleTVAppleTV: Game on

Since the announcement of the AppleTV there has been a lot of speculation as to its capabilities, did it have some hidden functions that hadn’t been announced at the time? The possibility of additional functionality seemed likely and it didn’t take long after the release of iTunes 7.1 before people had a snoop around in the resources of the software to look for clues to any hidden purposes for the AppleTV.

Inside the software there are strings of text used to display the various messages and alerts shown whilst using the software, interestingly amongst these strings are these:

“4309.161” = “Are you sure you want to sync games? All existing games on the Apple TV ?^1? will be replaced with games from this iTunes library.”;”
4309.162″ = “Are you sure you do not want to sync games? All existing games on the Apple TV ?^1? will be removed.”;

The presence of these strings clearly shows that at the very least some of the games available for the iPod will also be playable on the AppleTV. How much more sophisticated the games available will be remains to be seen, when you consider the possible input device(s) that could be used with the device then there’s no reason why these games have to be as simple as the iPod games. There’s a whole range of ports on the AppleTV including the USB port which so far Apple has said is purely there for ‘maintenance purposes’.

In an interview on Wired.com, Greg Canessa – the Vice-President of PopCap games – specifically mentioned the AppleTV as one of the target platforms for their development:

It will be about taking the stable of franchises and games out of PopCap’s studio and adapting, customizing it for different platforms — adding multiplayer, new play modes, HD, customizing the user interface and display for Zune, ipod, Apple TV, Nintendo DS, PSP.

Notably missing perhaps from that list is the Nintendo Wii console, whether this is intentional or not is hard to say but given the runaway success of the Wii despite it not being as powerful as it’s contemporaries the Playstation 3 and XBox 360 shows that gameplay is not all about raw power. The AppleTV may not have the raw power of the XBox or Playstation but it may offer something close to the capabilities of the Wii, or perhaps even more given the Wii’s lack of HD playback capabilities.

Ripening opportunity2

Great design and application is something that Nintendo and Apple both share, it may be that Apple are looking to take advantage of the increase in popularity of the casual gaming market that Nintendo have cornered so well and to take a slice of that for themselves. The old ideas of the Pippin and the Interactive Television Box look like they have re-emerged from the ashes to a far more opportune time.


1: The iPhone definitely runs OSX, the AppleTV is rumoured to do so and it seems very likely that this is the case.

2: Sorry, this post was full of Apple related puns, not all of them intentional originally!

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