My Turn

Apple's Next Insanely Great Move

A Conceptual Exploration of the Mac Game Cube

P. McCloskey
www.macgamecube.com - 2001.08.22

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

If you want to know what Apple's next big move will be, just ask yourself, "in what area is Apple lacking," and then take a look at what the competition's been up to lately.

  1. Microsoft, not content with monopolizing the PC industry, is getting ready to storm the gaming industry with their Xbox. It will feature a hard drive, ethernet, even an Intel chip. Micro$oft will leverage their MSN Internet Service Provider (ISP) to give Xbox users connectivity to Internet entertainment and multiplayer games. Microsoft has its own search site in MSN.com.
  2. Sony (who recently took the PC world by surprise with the success of their Vaio notebooks) is also building PC-like functionality into their Play Station 2 (PS2) with typical PC I/O ports and optional hard drive. Sony has an alliance with AOL to provide PS2 users ISP services and Internet entertainment. AOL is exploring the idea of producing a wireless keyboard, mouse, and LCD display for the PS2, thereby making it even more like a PC. Sony partnered with Yahoo on Aug. 1.
  3. Apple has the "PC" savvy, Internet infrastructure, ISP alliance with the #3 ISP in the U.S. (after MSN and AOL): EarthLink, and a search site partner in Excite along with search engine capabilities in Sherlock, but no game machine.
  4. Nintendo is about to release the Game Cube, but without PC features (no hard drive or ethernet) and without any (announced) on-line multiplayer Internet strategy, ISP alliance, or search site partnership. As a matter of fact Nintendo is being suspiciously vague and even secretive about what the Game Cube's final I/O specifications will be.

Exploring the product gaps, an obvious potential for a hugely complimentary relationship is revealed in Number 3 and 4. Apple and Nintendo already share common corporate characteristics like:

  • Brand: They are both highly regarded household names and considered to be "cool" companies.
  • Values: They are both committed to family-oriented wholesome computing and entertainment (unlike the others).
  • Systems: They both specialize in making colorful, inviting, easy-to-use machines.
  • History: They are both pioneers in their own industry who today find themselves fending off copycat competition.

"Games" is the answer to the question asked above. Here's why I think a Nintendo-Apple alliance (not a merger) is coming:

  1. Micro$oft is buying up gaming companies and strong-arming others to force them to write games exclusively for Xbox.
  2. Sony's PS2 already has loads of games.
  3. Nintendo has a ton of games, too, but there is no doubt that they are feeling the heat from Microsoft and Sony. They didn't do too well with the Nintendo 64 and lost some gaming ground because of it, but they're looking to redeem themselves with the Game Cube. By the way, does everybody know that before the Game Cube was released to developers, Nintendo used Power Mac G4s running Game Cube emulation software to design Game Cube games? This was a fairly logical arrangement, since the Game Cube uses a variation of the PowerPC chip as its primary processor, the same chip that Apple use.
  4. Apple needs games.

In the area of Internet entertainment, i.e., multimedia and streaming media:

  1. Microsoft has their own Windows Media Player software.
  2. Sony has already aligned with Real Networks' Real Player to provide this capability for Play Station.
  3. Nintendo does not have this capability at all.
  4. Apple has QuickTime, the third most popular Internet multimedia client outside of Real Player and Windows Media Player. (QuickTime is the #1 PC gaming API, too, by the way.)

Other events (and nonevents) lead me to believe Apple and Nintendo may strategically align:

Apple never threatened Nintendo with legal action against the Game Cube, although it's name and design probably infringed on Apple's own (now defunct) Cube. Speaking of which, rumor has it that the reason Apple's Cube was eliminated was "once you see the new iMac. you'll understand why."

  • Theory #1: Maybe Apple's redesigned iMac/Cube will be mateable with Nintendo's Cube, providing its monitor, Ethernet, QuickTime, and the other PC features Nintendo left out.
  • Theory #2: Maybe Apple's new machine will come with a DVD drive that can also read the Game Cube's proprietary 3.5" game CDs so you can play Game Cube games directly on the Mac.

Expanding on Theory #1, if the Game Cube features FireWire (IEEE 1394) ports (their Web site description of the Cube says "digital AV Output x1" - that probably means FireWire) it will be able to connect to Mac hard drives and access their files, and Macs can view games on on their screens, and optionally control the Game Cube through the keyboard and mouse.

The role of a computer equipped with FireWire is to connect anything to anything. All new Macs include FireWire; most PCs do not (that's where Apple has a leg-up right now). Game Cube developers can write games to use the Mac's resources via FireWire, therefore alleviating the need for Nintendo to add those features to the Game Cube itself. The Game Cube could even access the Internet through the Mac for on-line multiplayer gaming.

Apple registered mammals.org (for some oddball reason, and maybe here it is), and the original code name for the Game Cube was Dolphin. Dolphins are mammals. BAM!

Dolphin. Aqua (OS X)

Matsushita (Panasonic) pioneered development of the SuperDrive for Apple that the high-end Macs use today. Matsushita also makes the 3.5" proprietary DVD-ROM drive that the Game Cube will use.

I could be wrong about all this, but I think not. Nintendo is feeling the heat from old and new competition, although they publicly play cool about it and a need for an on-line strategy.

Reality is, they may not continue to prosper based on good games alone, especially with the Micro$oft marketing behemoth in the picture. To keep up with Monopolyosoft, they need to align with a company that can provide a way into the PC/Internet-connected world, while at the same time expanding their market share by tapping into a whole new loyal customer base: Mac Users.

Is it more than a coincidence that when asked at the recent E3 about Nintendo's on-line strategy, Nintendo's director and general manager of corporate planning said, "If we can find a way to come up with a network system that's going to support a worldwide audience and be sustainably profitable, then we'll definitely go in at that point."

Sounds like he's talking about Apple to me! All Macs made in the last few years have built-in ethernet, 56K modems, USB, wireless Airport-ready (11 Mbps) networking, and FireWire - and Apple has the the MPEG-4 know-how. MPEG-4 is based on QuickTime and is a wide-ranging set of audio and video technologies designed to condense large digital packages into small files that can be easily transmitted on-line, giving video itself the kind of interactivity that only Web sites and video games now have.

No other company or company's machines offer as many networking options as Apple does. Or maybe Apple will just license the Game Cube technologies and come out with their own Apple-branded Game Cube (Theory #3).

Panasonic (Matsushita) showed a Game Cube design of their own at E3 that they plan to sell in the U.S. next year, which tells us that Nintendo is "opening up" their technology to other companies, perhaps as a way to grow their user base like the PC industry did in its beginning.

+ + = ?

The Nintendo and Game Cube logos copyright Nintendo Corp. The NeXT and Apple logos copyright Apple Computer. NeXT was the company Steve Jobs ran prior to his current position as CEO at Apple.

Having said all this, if it seems so logical that Nintendo and Apple form an alliance, why haven't they done so already? Well, Steve didn't reveal a new LCD iMac at Macworld 2001 when everybody thought he would, so maybe he and Nintendo are just waiting to tie it to the strategic announcement and blow all the other announcements from the competition out of the water. Consider the upcoming calendar of events for Apple, Nintendo, and Microsoft between now and the end of the year:

  1. Nintendo's huge "SpaceWorld" gaming expo, Tokyo, August 25-26.
  2. Apple will release Mac OS X 10.1 (the ultimate version) sometime in September.
  3. The Game Cube will be released in Japan on Sept. 14th.
  4. Apple Expo Paris, Sept. 26-30. Apple is due to release a new machine around this time, just-in-time for the holiday season. Seybold is happening that same week; Apple will keynote there, too.
  5. Microsoft plans to release XP in October (if the DoJ lets them!) with Bill-ions in marketing dollars already earmarked. The amount will more than double what they spent for the Windoze 95 launch! Why so much effort?
  6. Nintendo will release the Game Cube in North America on November 5.
  7. Microsoft will release the Xbox three days after that, with a $500 million promotional budget. Again, why so much effort? What are they afraid of? Do they know something we don't about two other companies who are getting ready to make a monster announcement?

"Oh, and one more thing"

Macworld 2001 was not the huge OS X celebration Apple said it would be. There was no accompanying OS X marketing blitz or redesigned iMac. Maybe Apple and Nintendo are waiting for one of the above events to make their bomb-of-an-announcement along with an OS X/new iMac/Nintendo marketing blitz to steal some of Microsoft's XP/Xbox thunder. Apple is, after all, Microsoft's competitor, and now, because of the Xbox, so is Nintendo.

Lastly, one of Apple's stated primary goals for this year is to increase market share. Aligning with Nintendo's gaming power could hugely contribute to this effort!

Could this be all merely wishful thinking and conjecture? Yeah, a little, but the fact remains that this study was assembled objectively and based on observations of industry trends and commonly available PR announcements from the vendors on the Internet. The bottom line is that Apple and Nintendo are perfect fits for each other, and aligning is something they need to do to keep up with the competition.

If it doesn't happen, it's still gonna be a hot Fall in the gaming industry this year! Then maybe they will just make the announcement at Macworld Japan early next year.

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