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The long-rumored Apple console, free-to-play games, and the future of the living room

I've never worked in the games business, and I have no major reason to have opinions about it. But I've been thinking about this one for a really long time and I don't see it being fully explained anywhere. So here's my thesis about what's going to happen with console gaming.

One day, Apple will expand Apple TV into an iOS device that can support third-party apps, perhaps renaming it in the process. The biggest reason they have to take this step is the rise of free-to-play (F2P) games. F2P games have made major inroads in mobile and PC gaming, but nobody has taken them into the living room. Apple will be the company to do this, beating Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Valve to the punch. It will give the company a major footprint in the living room, strengthen its position as a distributor of streaming entertainment, and grow Apple TV into a massive new product line.

Free-to-play gaming is a tidal wave

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What's wrong with BlackBerry

Michael Mace has a great post about why BlackBerry’s in trouble, in spite of its phenomenal revenue growth:

Looking at the high-level financials can lull you into a false sense of security if you’re managing a computing platform. You have to really dig to find the warning signs….

Five years ago, RIM was getting .7 new subscribers for every BlackBerry sold. In other words, most of its sales were to new users. Today, RIM is getting .37 more subscribers per BlackBerry sold, and that figure is at an all-time low. To put it another way, RIM now has to sell more than two and a half devices to get one more subscriber. Either RIM is selling most of its units to its installed base, or it is having to bring in a lot of new customers to replace those who are leaving for other devices. My guess is it’s a mix of both.

Mace has a few suggestions for how to fix it, including focusing on its differentiation:

RIM need a product vision identifying a few new differentiators for BlackBerry that will resonate well with the busy knowledge workers who are at the core of its installed base. There should be no more than three of these features (because customers can’t remember more than three), and they should not be copies of things that Apple is already implementing. RIM should focus on building them deeply into the product, so they are very well integrated with the rest of the device. My nominees are meeting planning, conferencing, and live document sharing.

In terms of my personal priorities for a phone, I definitely think of myself as a core BlackBerry user. And those three features—meeting planning, conferencing, and live document sharing—would be pretty great if done well, and maybe RIM is the company to do those well in mobile.

One of the tricky things, though, is that those feature areas are ones that inherently depend on network effects of users, which means that users wouldn’t get much value out of a BlackBerry-only solution. You can’t restrict meeting planning to only meetings with other BlackBerry users, and you can’t schedule a conference call where you force everybody to use a BlackBerry on the call. So RIM would have to form deeper technical partnerships with existing players—for example, GoToMeeting with conference calls, Google Docs with document sharing, etc—which would be a big shift for them strategically. Could they pull it off? Perhaps. I might not bet on that though.