Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) kicks off on June 8, and there will likely be a number of announcements that will have a major impact on the world of entertainment in the months and years ahead. There are also some very credible rumors about what Apple is planning, and those plans may affect various markets in major ways. Let’s examine these potential announcements and what they might mean to marketers.
The Latest iOS Appears
As per its usual practice, Apple will use the WWDC to introduce the latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS 9. Unlike last year’s update, iOS9 is expected to be focused on performance and stability rather than sweeping new changes. The key thing being rumored about iOS9 is that it will actually work well with older versions of iPhones and iPads, thus making that older hardware more viable for continued sale. This will improve Apple’s ability to sell hardware into the most rapidly growing segment of the mobile market, which is in lower-priced devices (particularly to countries like India). This may also have the happy effect of making games perform better as well, and expanding the installed base of compatible iOS devices, which is never a bad thing.
Apple’s Streaming Music Service Debuts
This seems like a pretty good bet from all accounts, with Apple building on the foundation it acquired through its purchase of Beats. Streaming music has overtaken downloads as the major source of music for most people, and thus Apple sees the need to be there. This service is anticipated not only for all iOS devices, but for Android devices as well, vastly increasing Apple’s reach.
New iPads and iPhones
These are not likely to be announced at WWDC, as Apple usually saves that for fall announcements. Still, the rumors have already started making the rounds, with the iPad line due for a refresh. There are suggestions that Apple is working on a large-size iPad with a 12.9″ screen, compared to the current 9.7″ screen, which at the least will offer an impressive screen for gaming. New iPhones will no doubt appear as usual in the fall; rumors point to a new CPU and GPU that will lend better performance to games, as well as more powerful cameras and the addition of Force Touch, enabling the new phones to have a new input method that may be of use to game designers. The Apple Watch will also get some attention with more development tools.
The New Apple TV
While all the early rumors and smoke signals pointed to a a new version of the Apple TV to be announced at WWDC, the latest word is that this may not happen after all. The hardware is all ready, but that’s not the issue here. Apple has been negotiating with various networks in order to offer a package of services, perhaps in the range of $20 to $30 per month, that would provide dozens of the most popular television channels without the need for a cable or satellite subscription. This is expected to be hugely popular, possibly attracting tens of millions of subscribers and prompting a wave of cable-cutting. However, negotiations still aren’t complete to Apple’s satisfaction, and thus the company may wait to introduce the hardware until a suitable array of providers have signed on.
The new Apple TV hardware, though, will likely have an impressive array of features in and of itself. The device is rumored to be even sleeker than the current Apple TV, and the internals will have an impressive upgrade. Look for an Apple 8X CPU and GPU, the company’s most powerful ARM-based chips, which will run an array of software with impressive speed. There will also be increased storage on the device and more storage options, too, because Apple will finally be opening up the App Store to the Apple TV.
The App Store on an Apple TV means games — thousands of them available immediately, no doubt, as developers make whatever minor changes are needed to make current games compatible. Since games represent some 75 percent or more of the revenue from mobile apps, it’s a sure bet that they will be an important part of the new Apple TV’s appeal. The device is expected to sell for $99 (the current one has been reduced to $69, probably to make room for the new model at $99), which makes it a game-changer in the console market.
Sure, there are already Android-powered consoles like the Fire TV and the Nvidia Shield that are attracting attention, and more on the way. But the new Apple TV brings the largest developer ecosystem with it, and a huge number of top-notch iPad games that are just waiting to be played on the big TV screen. Something like Vainglory or Dawn of Titans will be impressive as hell on a big TV.
The Apple TV is going to be immensely popular for a variety of reasons beyond games, though. The package of TV providers (which will likely include such things as CNN, CBS, AMC, and others) is a sure seller. Apple’s also got HBO and Showtime options, too, which will draw in more people. And the new Apple Music streaming service is sure to be popular as well. Beyond those entertainment options, Apple is making the Apple TV the hub for its home automation services and technologies labeled HomeKit, which will be supported by a large array of providers for controlling household devices, including lighting, thermostats, security, sensors and many others.
This array of capabilities will take the Apple TV, already a solid performer (with over 25 million units sold at last report), to a new level — with an installed base that should reach 50 million or more of the new Apple TV in a year or less. This will make it one of the top consoles out there very quickly. While the new Apple TV won’t match the raw power of an Xbox One or a PS4, it’s a fraction of the price — and people will be buying it for many reasons, not just games.
Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo should be taking the new Apple TV into account in their marketing strategies, as it will give consumers a compelling alternative to purchasing a dedicated game console. Game developers will continue to create deeper and more compelling titles for iOS devices, and more direct ports of console titles will be a distinct possibility as Apple now supports game controllers in iOS. While the new Apple TV may not push as many polygons as a dedicated game console, the rendering available now on mobile chips features all of the capabilities of PC or consoles, just not the same level of power. Careful choices when designing games means that games on these “mobile consoles” can have impressive visuals, certainly good enough to impress most people.
This new era may well arrive this fall, if Apple can line up its deals. The holiday market this year may have the most console options ever, with PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U showing a strong game lineup, Steam machines arriving, several Android TV devices, and the new Apple TV all competing for market share. Marketers will need to be agile indeed as the market evolves rapidly this year.
The Apple Footprint Grows
Apple’s WWDC will mark the beginning of Apple’s expanded entertainment empire. Streaming music will extend Apple’s dominance of the music market, and by reaching Android devices it will bring more people into the Apple ecosystem. The new iOS9 will bring broader acceptance of Apple devices to a larger audience. The eventual announcement of bundled TV services will bring a huge wave of subscribers if Apple’s deal works out the way they want. Finally, the new Apple TV will not only bring all of these things together in an affordable package, it will finally open the home market to Apple games and iOS developers in a big way. We may not see all of these pieces yet, but by the end of the year it’s going to be enormous if this all comes to pass. The Apple TV could take its place among top-selling Apple products and cast aside forever its label as “just a hobby” for Apple execs.