MIT Technology Review

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Why an Apple TV SDK Excited the Internet

No, the iTV isn't imminent. But third-party programmers are rightly excited at the prospect.

It’s a testament to Apple’s power over Internet discourse that the mere whisper of a hint of a rumor can send dozens of websites into a frenzy. Earlier today, Business Insider posted that Apple would “likely hold an Apple TV-related event in March” according to a Jefferies analyst named Peter Misek. The claim or supposition was that Apple wouldn’t present the hardware yet, but would introduce a software development kit so that third-party programmers could get a head start on making games and apps for an iTV in the offing.

The well sourced Jim Dalrymple at The Loop responded with one word: “Nope.”

Chalk it up to more Internet-fueled Apple frenzy. (Amusingly, following the chain of links shows that originally Business Insider posted Misek’s roadmap of supposed product launches, solely to point out that it “doesn’t look like much is on its way until June.” A commenter, spotting on the map something that said “iTV-Related Event” in March, then seems to have had the effect of prodding Business Insider into a subsequent post claiming such an event was a likelihood, which it then basically had to retract.)

Analysts have been predicting iTV launches for years; each quarter they seem more and more certain the thing is imminent, and each quarter they’re proven wrong. No one should report that an Apple product launch is imminent based on the musings of any analyst, so far as I can tell.

Even so, interesting insights can come out of speculation like this. The Misek misfire--and its vision of offering a kit to give developers a headstart on populating an “iTV” ecosystem with apps--has drawn attention to a post from one of the first engineers on the Xbox project, a fellow named Nat Brown. (I first came across the post via MacRumors.) Somewhat in the same vein of Misek’s line of thinking, Brown asks: “Why can’t I write a game for xBox tomorrow using $100 worth of tools and my existing Windows laptop and test it on my home xBox or at my friends’ houses? Why can’t I then distribute it digitally in a decent online store, give up a 30% cut and strike it rich if it’s a great game, like I can for Android, for iPhone, or for iPad?”

Brown thinks that Microsoft is shooting itself in the foot by not doing everything it can to make development for its platform easy for small developers.

“I will be the first to write apps for Apple-TV when I can, and I know I’ll make money,” says Brown in his post (see the full text of that post--“Stupid, Stupid xBox!!”). Brown is already, then, one of the putative iTV developers Apple will be targeting. The reason, he explains, is that Apple simply makes it easy for him to publish a game and make some money. He goes so far in the post as to say an iTV, or whatever it’ll be called, could spell the end to consoles as we know them.

“Apple, if it chooses to do so, will simply kill Playstation, Wii-U and xBox by introducing an open 30%-cut app/game ecosystem for Apple-TV.” All of which is darkly evocative of some ideas that Valve’s Gabe Newell has already presented (see “Defending the Living Room from Apple”).

Brown’s comments--and the excitement over the mere glimmer of a whisper of a rumor of a falsehood about a supposed iTV SDK event--are further indications that technology companies need to be doing whatever they can to foster vibrant ecosystems. It’s been said a million times before--but apparently not loud enough, if one of Microsoft’s own former engineers is finding that Redmond is not offering him opportunities to unleash his creative energies in the service of his former employer’s platform. Content is king. I knew this even back when Super Mario games dictated my childhood hardware purchases (I never bought a Sega; Sonic the Hedgehog simply wasn’t as fun).

This is why some of the most interesting decisions coming out of the tech world today are ones that seem totally backwards from a traditional business standpoint--like Jeff Bezos’s recent idea to hand out free money to Kindle Fire users, as a sort of stimulus for app development for the Kindle Fire ecosystem. It's a brilliant move, and the only kind that can help catch up to iOS's already richly developed world of content.