There is a rumour bouncing around the internet that Apple is working on a competitor to the Nintendo Switch – a hybrid-type portable console that would be powered by the company's own tech.
With the Nintendo Switch Pro yet to break cover, it's tempting to see an open goal here that Apple would want to shoot for, but I don't think it fits, for a bunch of reasons, some relating to the original Korean forum post itself (via MacRumors) and some relating to Apple overall.
Let's start with the technical side, with MacRumors reporting the supposed leak as saying "The device will apparently feature an entirely new Apple-designed application processor, neglecting to use an A-series or M-series chip. This chip appears to be specifically designed for gaming and is said to feature enhanced GPU performance and improved ray tracing."
Not to get too nerdy about system architecture, but Apple would be off its rocker to abandon its A or M chips when making this thing. Not just because the iPhone 12, new iPad Pro 2021 and MacBook Air (M1, 2020) are all the most powerful devices of their kind, but because of how Apple builds its processors.
Both the A-series chips and the M1 are built with a unified memory architecture, where the processor and GPU both use the general RAM pool for their memory, and everything is built into the same chip. This can make things work much, much faster, because you don't have to ship data from the processor to the GPU and back again – it's all easily accessible in the same memory pile. A bit like sitting on a table with a Lazy Susan in the middle – much more efficient than having to hand dishes back and forth between you.
This is different to gaming PCs, which still have separate components, and is one ways the M1 is a bit of a revolution – this type of architecture has never taken off on PCs, partly because people object to it making things much harder to upgrade. But you know where something very similar has been in use for years? Consoles, including the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and, of course, the Nvidia mobile chip in the Nintendo Switch.
So this rumour says Apple will move away from its chips which already, frankly, could have been custom designed for portable gaming hardware, considering how good they are at balancing performance with low energy use… And apart from the addition of custom ray-tracing hardware, there isn't even much Apple would need to do to make its current GPUs better for mobile gaming.
GPUs scale – it can just make the chip larger! The M1 is already more powerful than a PS4, and trashes the current Nintendo Switch, without Apple lifting a finger. Why would it make an all-new chip during a time of chip production shortages?
Apple and gaming: not a great match
But even more than the weird chip rumour is the fact that Apple doesn't really get gaming – never has, and I suspect never will. Which really seems like a prerequisite for making a games console.
Apple stumbled into a premier position for mobile gaming, simply by having great development tools and an iPhone audience willing to pay for cool games. It has sometimes nurtured the iPhone gaming scene, and sometimes smothered it.
Apple has never made a gaming controller on its own. When it decided that might be good for iPhone and Apple TV games, it roped in other companies… and failed to make the controllers a useful standard that really worked for games, so they didn't take off.
More recently, it's done better, by simply allowing PlayStation and Xbox controllers to work with iOS and Apple TV. And Apple Arcade is a cool step, because it's just letting interesting developers make good games and Apple gets out of the way.
But does any of that translate into a console? Apple Arcade has some fun titles, but they don't sell a system. Do you think for one second that Apple could make hardware controls that compete with the Switch? Is it, as a company, institutionally capable of incubating a Zelda: Breath of the Wild?
And all of this is before we even mention Metal, Apple's graphics system, which is not exactly first on the list for developers. Maybe if Apple supported Vulkan, things would go better, but would that happen?
Perhaps the games console would just be touchscreen, and run Apple Arcade games made for touchscreen, and have 5G connectivity, and use the Apple A15 next-gen chip, and… oh, right, that's probably just the iPhone 13. I suspect that will remain Apple vision for gaming for the foreseeable.