Thoughts falling far from the tree?

Imaginative Apple Tree photo...With thousands of millions of downloads zinging their way to the 17 million iPhones out there in the wild, it'd be hard to argue that Apple aren't on to something with the App Store.

But I think there's a clear and greater opportunity on the horizon. Don't get me wrong, having 17 million storefronts nestled in public pockets is undoubtedly a great opportunity in itself. But a mechanism already exists through which individuals impulse buy everything from games to useful business tools and it has been around for a while.

I am, of course, referring to the humble PC (or Mac/PC if you want to make an increasingly irrelevant distinction.)

Considering the Draconian (yet strategically magnificent) dependence of iPods upon iTunes, I can say with some confidence that you probably have it installed in your home. Like TV and precisely unlike popular 90s high street merchant Electronics Boutique, it's a phenomenon that has penetrated right to the heart of popular culture.

But I'd like to suggest that it's most accurate to think of it as a powerful trojan horse which will usher in the age of mainstream digital application distribution. Alongside this, it will almost certainly also open the door to a new generation of smaller developers who have cut their teeth on iPhone development. Meanwhile however, there's another matter to be addressed.

Somewhere in the deep dark recesses of many brains is a little slimy globule of cells which adores shiny tech. For years now, Apple has distributed beautifully designed, powerfully marketed products that tickle this abberation in both geeks and 'normals' alike.

But how much of this audience also feels the same tingle from the world of games? As the Wii has demonstrated, people like to play. Sure, some of them prefer the complications of Civilisation to Peggle but both hardcore and casual markets are growing at such a rate that Apple would be unwise to neglect the opportunity it represents.

Via a proper iTunes App store, they have a perfect and branded delivery device poised for a digital age. But more than this, I think they could be looking to emulate Nintendo and go on a serious first-party offensive. 

With the hiring of Graeme Devine, they have taken on board a gaming industry veteran with a wealth of experience. Do I think they'll make a console? No. Do I think they'll push a hardware-independent agenda which spans iPhone, Apple TV, laptops and maybe a tablet/netbook? We'll see.

Nintendo without first party titles would be nothing. Can mega-brand Apple, equipped with iTunes infrastructure use first party products to become a market leader in a new area that they've essentially created?

If they managed it with the iPod, I'm sure they could give it a fair crack this time round.

- Max Tatton-Brown

June 10th, 2009