The New Apple TV SDK

WWDC ’13 is over and developers have returned home to nurse their ailing livers back to health. While on bed rest and recovering from a non-stop week of drinking from the knowledge firehose and friends, developers have begun to dive into the API diffs. Prior to any WWDC the development community is ablaze of rumors and wish list, for many it’s reminiscent of the childhood run up to Christmas. On the list for many developers over the last few years has been an Apple TV SDK. After all the Apple TV runs a modified version of iOS, there aren’t a lot of arguments for why developers can’t create software for it. While the Mac Pro, iOS 7, and OS X 10.9 were the talks of the show, Apple quietly gave us an Apple TV SDK and didn’t even tell anyone.

Update: I have written a follow up piece, Apple’s Game Console will Change the Living Room.

What has always concerned me about an Apple TV SDK was the lack of a proper gaming remote. It is no great precognition that the Apple TV would become an amazing gaming platform. When the iPod touch was turning into a PSP replacement Apple was still fighting gaming on their devices. A few years later and Apple has seemingly fully embraced gaming, undoubtedly realizing the tremendous stacks of money involved. The Apple TV however does not come with a remote capable of playing complex games, the standard IR remote with its meek six buttons isn’t good for much in the way of gaming. The Apple TV does have a bluetooth chip that could be enabled via a firmware update, and for years I thought this would be the approach Apple would take. A bluetooth game controller while not super efficient would solve a number of hurdles Apple faced with Apple TV gaming.

In reality Apple outsmarted us all, or at least me. The iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches we all have in our homes are the best controllers, but looking at an iPhone screen and trying to watch a TV set across the room is a non-starter. The whole point of a gaming console is to focus on the larger screen in your TV. Enter the new Game Controller framework. This move is so brilliant that it could completely revolutionize home gaming.

The most important problem is solved, tactile controllers for gaming. Apple has given control to third party hardware manufactures to design and deliver a multitude of game pads. These game controllers will all have unified input so they can work with any game that supports the framework.

Apple has also done something that should be keeping Microsoft and Sony up at night. Instead of building a bigger, faster, badder AppleTV they are offloading the processing power to iDevices. This allows Apple to keep the AppleTV price point at $99 and offloading the processing to the iPhone, that frankly, most of us already own. Using existing Airplay technology the AppleTV is poised to become the gaming console of 2013.


While XBox One and Playstation 4 were being announced at E3 for $499 and $399 respectfully, Apple released an ever updating gaming console for $99 (plus the cost of controller and iDevice). Apple also has the best software lineup of any next gen console with more than 750,000 apps. Including hundreds of thousands of sub $10 games. This comes on the tails of modern PS4 and Xbox games tipping the scales at almost $60.

When upgrading an iPhone, which a lot of users are doing every couple of years, you get a free upgrade to your gaming console. Not to mention that games become portable. You can start your favorite game on an AppleTV and take it with you to the airport, bus, or even bathroom. A lot of us already have an iPhone and AppleTV, with the addition of a game controller and some well developed games we already have the next gen consoles in our homes, and we didn’t even know it.

I fully expect Apple will let users build up a supply of game controllers for a year before they begin marketing the Apple TV as a gaming platform. The potential announcement even sounds like something Apple would say, “You already have the most powerful gaming console in your home, and two million users already have game controllers for it”.

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Kyle Richter

Kyle Richter is the Co-Founder and CEO of MartianCraft an iOS and Mac consulting studio. He has previously founded and run Empirical Development and Dragon Forged Software. He has been developing indie Mac software since 2004. Kyle is available for speaking and birthday parties.

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6 thoughts on “The New Apple TV SDK

  1. wow!

    This is huge news.

    Amazing non-announcement from Apple.

    Great article, very well written.

  2. Just curious why you say that the processing power will be offloaded to your iDevice. Is that something you know because you’ve dug around in the SDK or are you just making an assumption? Because if Apple’s solution is how you describe it, I don’t see the point in having an SDK for the Apple TV itself as its already possible to screen share your iDevice to the Apple TV and the addition of controllers would just mean you’re controlling the iDevice instead of the Apple TV directly, but otherwise no SDK for the ATV would be necessary. I would assume that because the SDK exists, that would mean the apps would actually run on the ATV itself, otherwise what would be the point?

    • Also, now that it’s morning I just realized that the subtlety of your article went over my head at ~1am when I first read it. You were using the term Apple TV SDK figuratively. I do wonder how many devs will embrace this method. Right now the lag involved in pushing Airplay streams to the ATV is a fairly significant thing, anything requiring fast button pushes aren’t worth messing with at the moment.

  3. Hmm, the iDevices might have sufficient processing power, but I’ve got a lot of reservations about whether the lag from transmitting a display from the device to the Apple TV is suitable for gaming. Sure, it’s fine for video, because lag is irrelevant there. But for gaming, network stutter would really kill the experience. I hope I’m wrong.

    • Airplay was designed for video, Apple undoubtedly sees the potential here and I am sure they have some great minds working on Airplay to get the lag down, there is really no reason why it couldn’t be very fast. They are also releasing 802.11 ac devices which will also make a big difference.

  4. I don’t really know how i came across your article, but i must say that even if it is interesting, your analysis of the industry of videogaming isn’t quite exact.

    Maybe this kind of gaming could threaten Nintendo’s marketing target, which is family gaming but considering short to medium term, this as nothing to do with sony’s and microsoft’s gamers.

    Sometimes, you can’t assure success to a technology only because of it’s accessibility.

    Please do not pay attention to my poor english, i did my best.

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