Technology analysis of the latest gadgets, consoles, and computer architectures.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Apple TV: More than just Movies and Music

I only have two gaming consoles right now, the Sony Playstation 2 and the Nintendo Wii. I purchased the PS2 freshman year of college once I had a chance to experience the console and the many RPGs available for it. There are still quite a few games (God of War 2, Onimusha, Xenosaga II) on the PS2 that I look forward to playing through one day; I feel that the PS2 is long from losing its useful life for me. I also enjoy the fact that the PS2 can all play PS1 games; I have taken advantage of this feature many times in the past.

The Nintendo Wii won me over as soon as I realized the social potential of the console. The first task to complete with a new user on the Wii is to create a new Mii for everyone who wants to play, which alone sells the console's ability to bring people together and introduces a new style of wireless gaming. It is also a perfect console for someone who does not own any Nintendo consoles; the Wii provides full Gamecube game and controller compatibility along with Virtual Console releases of most [Super] Nintendo [64] and some Sega and Turbo Grafx games.

My appeal for the Playstation 3 is quite limited right now, especially given that they have removed backward-compatibility for PS2 games. I am currently at the stance that I will only purchase an Xbox360 or PS3 if the consoles are redesigned to be smaller and to run cooler. In fact, the Xbox360 is more appealing at the moment since I have wanted to play certain Xbox games for a while (Oddworld, DOA3), the 360 provides backward-compatibility for their previous system, and the CPU and GPU are both 65nm now and power consumption drops to nearly half of the original 360.

Finally, I gave in and purchased a Nintendo DS to use during my travels between the Philippines and the U.S. last year, and that was also well-worth the purchase. I still enjoy bringing it out and playing some Mario Kart or Brain Age on the bus on my way to class, and I absolutely love the dual-screen stylus and key combos (pick up the system and try playing Zelda Phantom Hourglass or Elite Beat Agents and you'll understand). I wish more games were available that use the Nintendo DS in tandem (as a controller) with Wii games.

The one aspect missing from the Nintendo DS (and that the Sony PSP currently has) is the ability to download and store games on the device without any add-ons (like the R4, which is awesome). The iPhone is Apple's first dive into downloadable programs for an iPod-like portable device, and naturally (due to Apple's desire to create a portable device that is fast and fluid with its innovative UI) the iPhone has become a gaming device on the realms of competing with the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP. Let's compare the specs of these three portable systems:

Nintendo DS - ARM946E-S (67 MHz, handles 3D) and ARM7TDMI (33 MHz, handles 2D)
Sony PSP - 2 MIPS32 R4000-based CPUs (333 MHz) and GPU (166 MHz)
Apple iPhone - Samsung S5L8900 (ARM, 412 MHz) and PowerVR MBX GPU

Based on the specs, the Sony PSP is by far the most powerful portable gaming system, but the Apple iPhone is not too far behind. If Apple were to allow the Samsung CPU to operate at the full 620 MHz, it might be able to compete reasonably well with the Sony PSP. And given that people like me prefer to only carry around one portable device, an all-in-one phone/pda/ipod/gaming device is very appealing. So I think the Apple has a lot of potential to compete with Sony and Nintendo in the portable realm.

But what about the console space? Can Apple compete there? Well, contrary to previous gaming system introductions (Microsoft with Xbox, Sony with Playstation), Apple has introduced gaming to their portable device first, but that doesn't stop them from bringing the experience to the Apple TV. Alas, the iPhone and Apple TV GUIs share similarities in that both devices run the same core OS (atop of differing processor architectures), and both are designed to present the user with a more limited albeit extremely useable experience given the specific purposes they serve. So, as with Mac OS X 10.49 and above when Apple had to deal with different architectures in their PCs and laptops, Apple now faces a similar predicament in the Apple TV and iPhone OS realms. Fortunately, their solution on Mac OS X was Universal Binaries, which I think was brilliant, and is a solution flexible enough to be implemented on their counterparts. Just as Universal Binaries provide PowerPC and x86 32-bit and 64-bit binaries and libraries on PCs, they could also provide ARM and x86 binaries and libraries for the iPhone and Apple TV, respectively). And on these more limited devices, the user doesn't even need to know how the software packages are distributed.

So we are not very far off from seeing an Apple TV with support for iPhone applications, including games. And hence the CNET article documenting a patent for a type of Wiimote-like remote for the Apple TV makes perfect sense (although I don't understand why they can't just employ an iPod Touch Nano for this purpose :-D ).

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I forgot to mention: Nintendo is planning to provide access to an online store starting with the DSi; more to come later.