New data strings uncovered in the recently released iOS 4.3 beta 3 suggest that Apple may have grand ambitions for its little hobby known as the Apple TV. The Apple TV has never quite struck a chord with consumers in the way that Apple's other iconic products have, but the most recent iteration seems to be finally gaining some traction in the marketplace. With a lower pricepoint and the introduction of AirPlay, the latest AppleTV moved 250,000 units in the first week it went on sale and amassed 1 million in sales in just under 3 months.
But lest you think Apple merely plans to use the AppleTV for media rentals and AirPlay functionality, data strings in the iOS 4.3 beta hint that Apple may be looking to parlay the device into a set top gaming machine. If you look at the screen shot above, courtesy of Engadget, you'll notice that there are references to ATVGames that cryptically imply the potential for game scheduling (presumably for multi-player action) along with a mention of ATVGamesStandingsController, which if I had to guess, is in reference to something akin to the Game Center currently employed on the iPhone and iPod Touch.
We're particularly intrigued by two strings -- "com.apple.appletv.play.live.thunder" and ".play.archive.thunder" -- but what those actually mean in the grand scheme of things is ultimately ambiguous. Apple TV's minimum storage capacity (about 8GB) suggests the company might look to streaming not entirely unlike how OnLive works; as our tipster speculates, the OpenGL is mature and thoroughly implemented enough that streaming low bandwidth data and computing locally could happen, but that's just theoretical with nothing in the code to back it up.
Apple, of course, likes to operate two steps ahead of everybody else. As a base example, while every other smartphone company was stuck churning out boring phones in perpetuity, Apple came along and released the iPhone. Similarly, you can bet that Apple has long hopes for the Apple TV, and indeed, may very well view the device as its ticket into the much ballyhooed halls of the living room.
To date, no company has quite figured out how to infiltrate the living room with any discernible success, though an Apple TV that doubles as a gaming hub is certainly an intriguing proposition, especially given that Apple could potentially leverage the already successful iTunes App Store to create a unique and attractive gaming experience for casual players. Coupled with potential integration of the million of iPhones and iPod Touchs already out on the market, and the room for innovation becomes especially tantalizing.
Looking even further ahead, a number of analysts expect Apple to eventually release an Apple branded HDTV. This is quite speculative as the margins on HDTV are notoriously small, and Apple has a history of only entering markets where it can turn a healthy profit. Still, an Apple branded HDTV with integrated Apple TV connectivity would definitely be unique enough to warrant consideration and may just be where Apple is headed.