Apple announced the New Apple TV yesterday, showcasing Siri, the App Store, and a new remote. All of this was overdue, necessary, rumored, even expected. But the real story is in what comes next.
The initial focus of the Apple TV, and the accompanying editorials and reviews, seem to be focused on the device as a target for the “casual gamer,” but this is a very short-sighted view. It’s no coincidence that Apple described their new iPad Pro as containing a “console-class” GPU.
Benchmarking Apple’s recent offerings to the current console offerings shows a significant gap between them. From a CPU perspective, the iPad Air 2 Geekbench score has only 57% the performance of a PS4, and its GFXBench score on the Manhattan test is less than 50% of the current console offerings.
But put that in perspective – the iPad Air 2, a year-old device running on a battery, provides approximately half the performance of the latest generation of console gaming devices, and at a similar price point. What happens when you remove the power and cooling limitations present in a tablet?
The new Apple TV is also using last year’s CPU/GPU from Apple – the A8. This is likely a compromise Apple made to focus CPU foundry capacity on the iPhone 6s. As the latest generation components are often supply-constrained, Apple would dedicate their supply on meeting sales goals for the new handset, and as production yields improve, move that component down the product line. So what would that mean for next year?
If the next generation of Apple TV includes the A9 CPU and GPU, it would likely be on-par with the current generation gaming consoles. And with an annual Apple upgrade cycle, how long before it eclipses their capabilities? With consoles having a 4-7 year release cycle, it is without question that Apple TV has the ability to surpass the current generation’s capabilities before their next refresh.
The next concern is storage required for today’s immense games. With Batman: Arkham Knight weighing in at 45GB on the current consoles, how can the Apple TV with its meager 32GB base offering hope to compete? Further, Apple is limiting Apple TV apps to a ridiculous 200MB, this excluding any “real” games form ever making it to that platform. What is Apple doing here?
What they are actually doing is fixing much of what is wrong with console gaming today. By looking at what Sony and Microsoft did wrong with their recent console launches, Apple has developed an entire set of APIs to greatly improve customer experience even for huge, content-rich games like those available today. The core application and associated assets (images, maps, music) is limited to 200MB. Then, the application can request additional assets, called on-demand resources, to be downloaded as needed. These assets are temporarily stored on the device, and can be deleted if the system needs more room. This allows that 32GB of space to be used very efficiently for games that are currently being played, and allows the game to download quickly so users don’t have to wait hours and hours for installation.
Consider again Batman: Arkham Knight. Of that 45GB of total space required, how much of it is needed at any time? The game takes approximately 15 hours to complete, and if you go through the extra levels, it takes 25 hours. If you never play the extra levels and additional content, there is no need to ever download them. While you are playing the first levels, the operating system is downloading the next levels in the background so they are ready when you are. When you move to level 3, level 2 can be safely deleted, ready to download again if your little brother decides to play. When bugs are found, the patches will be smaller. When new levels are added to the game, they are available when the player needs them. The entire experience is streamlined to make use of the local device storage and the cloud, seamlessly.
Apple has completely changed the music and video retail industries. They have completely changed the handheld gaming market, and the cell phone market. They are positioning themselves to change the TV market, and if I were Sony and Microsoft, I’d be worried they are going after the console market as well.