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February 16, 2008 // 11:36 pm - Earlier this week it was revealed that Apple has filed to extend their trademark protection to include "toys, games and playthings, namely, hand-held units for playing electronic games; hand-held units for playing video games [and] stand alone video game machines".

While this does seem like a clear sign that Apple is planning to develop and release some form of video game console, a trademark filing does not positively ensure that such a device will become a reality. Companies do this sort of thing all the time, extending their reach to include products and services that they may never actually produce, but want to stake a claim to, just in case.

Here, however, there is some strong evidence to suggest that Apple might be planning to develop a stand-alone handheld gaming device. In previous What If columns, we examined what some other companies' offerings might look like, if they were actually built. Today, we speculate on the features that would likely be included in an Apple handheld, in light of this intriguing news.

Overall Look and Feel

Given Apple's emphasis on design, any handheld system they released would have to look beautiful as well as play games. The company has followed a broad, mass-market stretegy with their previous devices, and they would probably want to go with a design that was simple, appealing to a large amount of consumers (not just gamers) and useful. The device would likely be small and sleek, probably no bigger than the current-gen iPhone, which would make it the smallest new handheld on the market.

They might go with a white, plastic exterior – a color scheme which seems to be popular for gaming systems these days – or they might go with something completely iconoclastic to set themselves apart from competitors. Whichever strategy they chose, you can bet that it would be the most beautiful handheld gaming system the world has ever seen.

Media Format

It is almost assured that any Apple-designed gaming system would feature a robust digital distibution service, probably piggy-backed on top of the successful iTunes store. Considering that the new MacBook Air doesn't even include an optical drive, it is pretty safe to assume that Apple would eschew any kind of solid media and go straight for digital downloads, similar to the mobile phone distribution model.

If we had to guess, we would say that games would probably weigh in the 100 - 500 MB range to keep download times reasonable, with 4-8 GB of flash-based storage on the device itself. If the device also moonlighted as a multimedia player, which seems to be Apple's prevailing strategy, the storage would likely be expanded to the 16-32 GB range, but remain flash-based to keep battery drain and moving parts to a minimum.

Style of Games

Undoubtedly, any handheld system released by Apple would leverage the multi-touch capability of their popular iPhone. However, it is likely that a dedicated gaming system would have to include a minimal amount of buttons, to aid with games that did not exclusively use the touch screen. Designers would likely include, at the minimum, a standard d-pad and two face buttons.

These controls are familiar to all gamers, and would help brand the device as a dedicated gaming system. Given the company's preference for minimalist control schemes, we doubt that Apple would include shoulder buttons or any sort of analogue stick, unless they planned to compete for the "hardcore" audience, which is unlikely.

Another possibility is that the device could include some enhanced motion-sensing controls, similar to the tilt sensor that is curently found in the iPhone. This would open up many new and interesting control possibilities for handheld games (imagine an updated version of Marble Madness!).

Price Point and Marketing Strategy

This all sounds pretty good, but will be able to afford it? Considering that it will probably be oriented toward the casual / download market, it will not require a monster processor or graphics chip. Apple could release a competent gaming system with the same basic architecture and OS used in their current iPod Touch, which retails for around $300 USD.

Casual gamers would be unlikely to pick up a dedicated system at that price, however, so we imagine that Apple would strive to get the price down to the $200 range if possible. Even this would make it the most expensive handheld system currently on the market, but Apple has never been one to fight its battles on the merits of price alone.

What if: Apple designed a handheld gaming system?

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#19 - darksector26 - April 11, 2008 // 7:32 am
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On the electronic components side, apple should easily be able to design and make an exceptional handheld console however i think that apple will not want to risk their profits on well covered area (DS-touch screen and PSP-'good' graphics) in the gaming industry so unless they've got some revolutionary design thats not overpriced i feel it's too much of a risk.

#18 - killuminatinow - April 10, 2008 // 10:24 pm
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they should. it would be interesting to see their graphics and gameplay.

#17 - opfer65 - April 10, 2008 // 5:41 pm
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I think the products from apple simply fantastic.

Because the functions and the design is just great.

#16 - Xion102 - April 10, 2008 // 5:24 am
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oga boga is right.. i think it would lead to something very similar to the wii.

#15 - loverboifreak - April 9, 2008 // 6:59 pm
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i'm with Wintersun on this one, no more apple electronics for me. i'm getting a zune baby!!!

#14 - tygreen19 - April 8, 2008 // 11:27 pm
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they would probably do good because of the interfaces they deal with.. they will just need designers.

#13 - werds - April 8, 2008 // 6:38 pm
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i think this turned from a "what if apple designed a handheld gaming system?" to "lets flame apple"

If you look at Apple's products throughout history they always have a good idea but alot of the time its ahead of its time, look at the Apple Newton which was the first palm pilot like device and it was out in the early 90's, the main problem is it failed because it was ahead of its time with limited software for it so really it only had the basic functionality that palms had when they first came out like schedules and addresses and such but nothing else i honestly dont think they even had syncing functionality but im not an expert on the Newton so i cant say one way or the other.

If Apple designed a handheld gaming system they would be very innovative in its interface and it would be interesting but I think it may not succeed for the same reasoning that there are just gonna be not many games for the system unless their designed by EA. Honestly there are next to no games for the Apple computers and I think if they went into an actual gaming system they would have next to no launching titles worth keeping other than the EA games like NHL (insert year here) or whatnot.

Oh and at the comment from Oga Boga i think you'll be right and it'll be like the Wii interface as well.

#12 - Kid Poker - April 7, 2008 // 4:53 pm
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I think the only useful thing that Apple actually made and succeeded with was the whole iPod line. I see everyone has an iPod nowadays. Ranging from little kids to adults in the 40-50 year old line. The rest were just a POS.

#11 - Oga boga - April 7, 2008 // 3:57 pm
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I think it would be something along the lines of a wii

#10 - gezzer80 - April 5, 2008 // 4:59 pm
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lol apple might do that cause they have a mp3 they have a new laptop whats came out they have a pc and a phone they might just be the next generation of hand held games .