Gaming isn’t Apple TV’s priority, and that’s okay

We’ve been told a hundred ways to Sunday that Apple TV is coming for consoles.

Plenty thought that yesterday would be the day that Apple would make the big gaming announcement that would strike fear into the hearts of Microsoft and Sony’s console teams. But that’s not exactly what happened.

Sure, games are coming to Apple TV. In fact, the way in which games are coming to Apple TV is pretty cool. But Apple TV is not a gaming-first platform, and it’s not a console killer.

Apple TV is a set-top entertainment platform with apps and gaming capabilities, not a gaming-first app-enabled console. And that’s an important distinction. It’s not about to threaten consoles or gaming PCs, and probably not even gaming on iPhones. If Apple TV is going to capture any portion of the gaming market, it will be casual gamers and even then, inspiring those  who game to put down their phones and pick up the Apple TV remote to play may be a tall order. Apple TV may very well upset the likes of Fire TV and micro consoles, but it’s difficult to see it posing much of a threat to robust gaming systems when it itself is very much…not.

To put it bluntly, customers won’t turn up in droves to purchase Apple TV for the games; they’ll come for the interface and for the video content. For the foreseeable future, Apple TV will remain what it has always been in the eyes of the market: a set-top box for primarily Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc. Now, it’s just better. More powerful, more versatile, more searchable and stuffed with more content and apps, some of which happen to be games.

In all likelihood, people will indeed play games on Apple TV, but the gaming experience seems to be one designed around brief and social gaming, not prolonged and immersed console-style gaming. Games like Crossy Road, with its multiplayer functionality and the intentional brevity of its experiences, are well-suited for incidental social and casual gaming, and for exactly that reason, a perfect fit for a set-top box that lives in your living room. Apple TV feels very much like a platform that’s built for casual and social gaming experiences, from the simplified game mechanics to the intuitive and very uncontroller-like controller.

Apple TV’s default controller is its remote–the same remote you use to turn the volume up and down and flick through your Netflix queue. Equipped with an accelerometer, gyroscope and touch surface that acts as a directional pad, the new remote is powerful and kind of makes you wonder why every other remote you own is so big when it does so little. The Apple TV remote works much like the Wii remote of yore, interpreting speed, direction, and motion as you move it around in space to do things like swing bats and steer cars.

Third party controller and Apple TV remote

Third party controller and Apple TV remote

In addition to the remote, Apple is also opening up the platform to third-party controllers in what feels like something of an un-Apple move. Whether or not third party controllers become a popular part of the Apple TV gaming experience remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely that Apple would welcome third parties into a revenue stream that it thought would be significant.

There may be games that will feel faster and more fluid on controllers. There may even be games designed around the idea of the controller experience on Apple TV. But for the most part, the controller experience will likely appeal to a relatively narrow crossover audience of “gamers who are familiar and comfortable with traditional console controllers” and “gamers who will buy Apple TV with the intention of gaming on it.” And really, that gets right to the heart of why Apple TV isn’t going to be console killer or the be-all, end-all of casual gaming or much of anything at all, really, in the traditional gaming space: because so-called “hardcore gamers” aren’t going to get excited about it.

Apple TV doesn’t have the titles to draw gamers to Apple TV and away from their consoles and PCs. While bringing previously console-only titles to Apple TV is a pretty big power move, console games are still a very different animal, and it likely goes without saying that Apple TV’s specs don’t hold a candle to the consoles when it comes to graphics and performance. Apple TV’s games are casual at their core, and limited space and third party app restrictions will likely mean that they’re perpetually on the “lite” side of the spectrum.

You aren’t likely to see too many existing iOS games ported over to Apple TV in a hurry, though. As 9to5Mac points out, the restrictions Apple’s placed on developers for Apple TV with regards to the use of local storage mean that many will have to completely restructure the way in which their games load content. Here’s the clause in question from Apple’s App Programming Guide for tvOS:

There is no persistent local storage for apps on Apple TV. This means that every app developed for the new Apple TV must be able to store data in iCloud and retrieve it in a way that provides a great customer experience.

Along with the lack of local storage, the maximum size of an Apple TV app is limited to 200MB. Anything beyond this size needs to be packaged and loaded using on-demand resources. Knowing how and when to load new assets while keeping your users engaged is critical to creating a successful app. For information on on-demand resources, see On-Demand Resources Guide“. 

That stipulation, paired with the restriction on app size, means that developers are going to have to do some serious adjusting in order to get their games on Apple TV. For the sake of context, the exceedingly popular iOS game Monument Valley packs a 261.9MB punch, and heavyweights République and Infinity Blade both weigh in at a hefty 1GB. Putting these games on Apple TV isn’t some kind of impossible feat, but restructuring asset loading will require developers to refactor massive amounts of code in order to make their games Apple TV-compliant.

In many ways, Apple TV’s gaming functionality seems like the antithesis to console systems. It’s all about shorter, social gaming, not the prolonged and immersive experiences often found in console games. And that’s okay. Consoles and Apple TV intentionally inhabit very different spaces within the gaming world. There are many ways to be a “gamer”, and many, many gamers prefer casual gaming experiences. The big question mark is whether or not casual gamers have any real desire to take their games from their phones and tablets to their televisions.

Maybe they will. Maybe Apple will find a way to make some money on that portion of the causal gaming market. Maybe we’ll see more games cropping up around the idea of social gaming with iPhones and the “remote controller.” Maybe it’s enough to be a set-top box with games that seem more like just another feature than a selling point. But any way you swipe, tap, or spin it, Apple TV is only a casual threat in the gaming space. For now.

5 tips and tricks to get the most out of your new Amazon Fire TV

So you got your hands on a new Amazon Fire TV or a Fire TV stick this holiday season. You’ve spent the last few days watching Netflix or Amazon Prime Instant, and now you’re wondering: What else can I do with this?

I’m glad you asked. Here are five tips worth trying if you want to get the most out of your Fire TV:

1. Install apps directly from Amazon’s website

One of the more frustrating things about the Fire TV is the integrated app store: Amazon chose to highlight some apps through lists and recommendations, but it’s impossible to find others. Luckily, there is another way: You can always just go to Amazon’s website and either browse all Fire TV apps, or search for what you are looking for, and then remotely install the app directly onto your Fire TV or Fire TV stick.

2. Play personal media

Amazon’s Fire TV allows you to display any photos or home movies you have uploaded to Amazon’s Cloud Drive. But what if you just want to look at photos on your phone or maybe play a longer movie saved on your computer’s hard drive? That’s where local media sharing apps come in.

There are just a handful of those apps available for Fire TV, but these two should help you with most of your needs: Allcast offers an easy way to beam photos, videos and even music from your phone or from sources like Google Drive to your Fire TV. You can download the Allcast app for your Android phone on Google Play, but you’ll also need the free Allcast receiver app for your Fire TV, which can be remotely installed on the device from Amazon’s website. Once that is done, Allcast will automatically launch the receiver app whenever you want to start sending media, meaning that you won’t have to bust out your Fire TV remote control to get things going.

fire tv guide allcast

Allcast is a good way to quickly beam personal media to a Fire TV.

For a more powerful solution, you should check out Plex. It’s a media center app that catalogs your media and presents it on your Fire TV, complete with a nice user interface with cover art and more. Plex relies on a server application that you’ll have to install on your computer, but it’s definitely the way to go if you have a large personal media collection. Plex apps are available for Android, iOS and Kindle Fire, and the Fire TV app for Plex can be installed directly on the device or through the Amazon app store.

3. Mirror your Kindle Fire, Fire phone or Android mobile device

Another way to quickly get content on the Fire TV is to mirror your screen. Fire TV supports Miracast mirroring, which is also supported by Android devices as well as select Windows PCs and Amazon’s own Fire TV tablets and Fire phones. To make it work, you’ll first need to go to Settings – Display & Sounds and then select “Enable Wireless Mirroring,” and then start mirroring on your Android device (instructions here) or Kindle Fire (instructions here).

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To mirror your phone or tablet, you’ll need to first enable screen mirroring.

4. Use Airplay with your Fire TV

Owners of iOS devices or Mac OS X computers don’t have to feel left out when it comes to mirroring: The AirPlay & DLNA receiver Pro app, which is available on the Amazon app store for $4.99, turns any Fire TV into an Apple TV-like AirPlay renderer. This means that you can mirror your Mac’s desktop or your iPad’s or iPhone’s screen on your Fire TV.

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Guess what: Your Fire TV can also receive AirPlay streams.

You can also use AirPlay directly from some iOS apps, but your mileage may vary: Sending audio to your Fire TV should work fine, but you should expect some difficulties sending video from apps. Also, performance of AirPlay mirroring may vary based on your Wi-Fi network and other circumstances, so this may not be the best solution if you want to stream videos from other websites, but it’s still a great way to quickly beam a presentation, or maybe some photos, to the TV screen.

5. Install third-party apps

Amazon now offers a bunch of apps for the Fire TV, but technically, the device would be available to do even more: Fire TV is based on Android, and thus able to play almost any Android app, provided that it doesn’t need touch input and that it can be used with a TV remote control. Loading apps from third-party sources, which is also known as sideloading, is a little more complicated that on some other devices, but still feasible for more adventurous users. Sideloadfiretv.com has some good instructions on how to do it.

However, there are a few things to consider when going down this route: First, you’ll want to make sure to only get Android apps from reputable sources, and be aware of legal grey areas. Google Play doesn’t offer users a way to download apps to their PCs or Macs, which is why many who are interested in sideloading rely on apps hosted on other sites instead. You may violate copyright laws by downloading apps that are republished without the consent of the original developer, and apps downloaded from unknown sources could potentially also include malware code. However, some developers have decided to make their apps directly available from their websites. This includes Kodi, a media center app popular with users looking to customize their Fire TV experience, which can be legally downloaded from the Kodi website.

If you sideloaded a lot of apps to your Fire TV, you may want to consider an alternative home screen like FiredTV.

If you sideloaded a lot of apps to your Fire TV, you may want to consider an alternative home screen like FiredTV.

Also, sideloaded apps don’t show up on the Fire TV home screen. Instead, you’ll be able to launch them by going to Settings — Applications. Or you could instead install a custom home screen replacement like the FiredTVLauncher that lists anything you are installing from other sources. And no worries, you can always go back to the Fire TV home screen in order to browse Amazon’s movies and TV shows.