Earlier this month, Apple held its “March Event” where it showed off a variety of new services. One of those services is called Apple Arcade, an upcoming game subscription service similar to that of Xbox Game Pass where users pay a recurring fee and instantly gain access to over 100 games. These aren’t the simple mobile titles you might expect like Candy Crush. Rather, these games will be curated by Apple, in addition to developers working directly with the company to produce these titles. And that’s why I’m a little concerned that the Switch could have a new contender to worry about.
Similar to consoles like the Switch, Apple operates in what one can call a ‘closed environment’. That is, both the hardware and software are created by Apple. Compare this to the world of Android and PCs. Both Android and Windows run on devices made by a wide variety of different hardware manufacturers, all of which have their own set of parts. This makes things a bit challenging for software developers, as they need to try and make sure their piece of software is compatible with as many of these devices as possible. Apple developers, on the other hand, don’t have this issue since they can tailor-make their games and programs specifically for each Apple device.
Apple was sure to emphasize how Apple Arcade will mark a turning point for the industry as the company is embracing gaming in a whole new way. Every title on Apple Arcade will be compatible with all of Apple’s current range of products: the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. This brings up yet another crucial point—how big are these games?
A family of power and prestige
By “big,” I’m referring to complexity. As I mentioned earlier, the titles that were shown off aren’t as simplistic as something like Candy Crush. Rather, they’re much pretty much on the same level as higher-end indie games. That is to say, these are pretty much in the same sphere as console games. In fact, in the dev interview for one of the titles called Beyond a Steel Sky, it was (purposefully) mentioned that the team is essentially creating a console-like game for mobile devices. And with Apple directly backing the development of these titles, that likely means these dev teams won’t be limited by severe budget constraints. By the looks of it, Apple seems to be building a collection of what can effectively be called first-party titles, as all indications point to the Apple Arcade projects being exclusives. So, where does the Switch fit into all of this? Well, its existence has arguably justified something like this to sprout up.
The Switch’s key feature is that it allows players to take their console experiences with them everywhere. With Apple Arcade games being able to run on Apple’s mobile devices and larger-screened computers and TVs, the experience will end up being rather similar to that of the Switch. Imagine starting a session on your MacBook at home, then having to leave to take the bus and continuing that gaming session on your iPhone. Then once you return home later that evening, you pick up from that point once more on your MacBook. Sure, this isn’t as fluid as how the Switch handles it, but the concept is quite similar. To add insult to injury, the iPhone XS and 2018 iPad Pro are leaps and bounds more powerful than the Switch. The iPad Pro’s specs have even been compared to an Xbox One S. So, just these devices alone could handle anything the Switch can and more.
If the majority of Apple Arcade games really do end up being meaty experiences that keep players engaged for hours, then yes, it can be rightfully considered as a big push by the company. And remember, this is Apple we’re talking about. Its brand recognition is literally one of the highest on the planet. As such, there’s a massive amount of Apple devices already out in the wild, so it’s not as if people are going to have to run out and buy new hardware. Thus, when Apple Arcade launches this fall, its user base is likely going to hit into the hundreds of thousands in just a matter of minutes, and millions within a day or two.
Strength in numbers
The one thing the Switch has going for it is that, unlike any of Apple’s devices, the Switch is still a console. While it may also be powered by mobile technology just like the iPhone and iPad, it’s been designed for the sole purpose of playing games. This is why developers find it so easy to work with since Nintendo and Nvidia created a dev environment that’s relatively simple—another benefit of being a dedicated game console. But, remember, Apple Arcade teams will be working with Apple itself, so something similar could also be happening on that end. Still, the Switch being an actual game console is what really helps it to stand out in this situation since it has a user base that’s different than that of the Apple crowd, so developers are (as of right now) still more inclined to choose the Switch.
I think it’s safe to say the vast majority of Apple users haven’t run out/will run out to buy a device just for the sake of gaming. So even with Apple Arcade, there’s still the matter of the service being tied to multi-purpose devices. It’s like how nobody buys a Swiss army knife just for one of its tools—it’s purchased for variety. Meanwhile, you’ll buy a screwdriver because you need and prefer a dedicated tool. In a similar fashion, Apple devices are like the Swiss army knife and the Switch is the screwdriver, especially due to the fact it has physical controls rather than touch. However, all Apple would have to do is add gaming accessories for its devices. That could be something like clip-on controllers for the iPhone, a controller-like cradle for the iPad, and/or an actual Bluetooth controller that’s compatible for mobile and also MacBook and Apple TV. If Apple actually does that, then this situation would by all accounts become quite the spectacle.
For now, though, it remains to be seen just how much of an impact Apple Arcade will have, but given the circumstances, I’m willing to accept that there’s at least the potential of issues arising for the Switch. After all, mobile gaming did take a chunk out of the Vita’s and even 3DS’s life cycle. If managed correctly, Apple Arcade has the prime ability to ignite a new level of interest in mobile from both the devs and consumer base. But, even if this doesn’t threaten the Switch at all, the very least I felt it necessary to put the thought out there. Keep an eye on Apple this Fall, things could get very interesting.