This is the fun part.
We’re about a week away from Apple announcing a new product. People are pretty sure it’s going to be an iOS-based Apple TV, that its name will be simply iTV, and that it will sooner or later have its own App Store. It’s all very exciting.
But this calm period — this strange time when we know everything and yet nothing — is the fun part, because we get to take our best shots at guessing what our new toys will look like. Here’s mine.
First, what kind of apps would make sense for an iTV? It’s not a touchscreen device, and you don’t carry it around with you. You operate it from your couch. So the obvious category is games.
But you need some kind of controller to play a game, unless Apple is working on its own version of Kinect, which I doubt. An Apple Remote doesn’t really cut it, and while an iPhone or iPod touch would make a great game console controller, as has been pointed out, it’s unlikely that Apple would require one: no game publisher is going to invest in developing a game whose market is restricted to owners of two separately-purchased devices, and iTV sales would be hobbled from the start. At least one standard controller needs to be included in the box for the iTV to be a viable gaming platform, so that controller has to be relatively simple and inexpensive.
What if that simple, inexpensive controller is something like an iPhone without the screen?
Above, I’ve crudely Photoshopped this concept together. It’s the love child of an iPod touch and a Magic Trackpad. It has the same inertial and gyroscopic motion sensors as the iPhone 4, and the same multitouch surface we’re familiar with. A home button. Bluetooth. No screen.
Of course, you’d have the option of using your existing iPhone or iPod instead — just run the free iTV app — and when your friends come over, they can bring their iPhones so you don’t have to buy extra controllers. And some games will make use of those screens if they’re present: you could do the SCRABBLE Tile Rack thing, for example. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures — an old multiplayer Nintendo GameCube title which used up to four connected Game Boy Advances as controllers, showing some of the action on the small screens — would also work well. But every game would be playable with the standard, screenless controller.
The Magic Trackpad costs about $70 retail. It doesn’t have any motion sensors in it, but it has all the rest of the hardware required by this hypothetical controller. I’m just guessing here, but it seems reasonable that a smaller, handheld Magic Trackpad with a motion chip in it could cost under $50.1
And you know what? I think this device might even work as the only remote for the iTV, even when you’re just using it to, you know, watch TV. No pushbutton Apple Remote at all, in other words: everything is gesture-based. Tap to pause, swipe left to rewind, swipe right to fast-forward. Slide up or down to adjust volume. Home key to exit to the menu, which you navigate by flicking and tapping. And just imagine how much better seeking around in videos will be with a touch surface…
Damn. Now I really hope Apple makes this product I’ve just invented. I’m excited just writing about it. This is the entertainment gizmo that I want to own.
See what I mean about the fun part?