Is the Apple TV about to take on Xbox Live?

interesting possible development for the Apple TV: an online gaming service beyond what Game Center’s paltry offerings currently provide, expanding gaming in iOS to the ‘hobby’ living room device.

Mysterious references to “ATVThunder” in the yet-to-be-released iOS 4.3 seem to indicate online games and merchandising will soon flow through iTunes and potentially into your Apple TV. Imagine scheduling games to be played online, viewing games by date, leaderboards by date (beyond Today, This Week and All Time), or watching live games or archived games. From what’s been spotted in the OS, these may all be possible via streaming to your Apple TV. Considering the 8 GB of onboard storage for the device, it would have to be streaming, wouldn’t it? Luckily the Apple TV is capable of OpenGL rendering and the onboard processor and iOS frameworks are up to the task of streaming all sorts of things, including games. It’s got the same A4 CPU that powers the iPad, clearly a gaming platform in its own right.

Speaking of streaming, there’s a couple of other references worth noting: “Sedona” and “Flagstaff” are listed as features in the OS. We have no idea what Flagstaff is, but Sedona is Apple’s video rental mechanism. Considering the North Carolina datacenter for a moment, and what we’re seeing in the 4.3 firmware, it isn’t too much of a stretch to see video rentals becoming video streaming through the Apple TV.

Another item: FEATURE_REMOTE_SCREENSAVER, which could be a way to push feature-rich screensavers beyond the Mac screen and on to your Apple TV or other iDevice. Imagine seeing Game Center leaderboards live on the Apple TV while you go grab a sandwich. Or something as mundane as the weather. iOS 4.3 is shaping up to be a pretty big update if any of these come to pass.

Lastly, we’re seeing support for DVD remotes from vendors such as Denon, Hitachi and Apex. Could this mean 3rd-party remote support for the Apple TV? That would be nice — and handy if you’re watching a lot of movies. Update: As commenters have pointed out, the Apple TV supports 3rd party remotes as playback remotes. The evidence we’re seeing indicates something… different. Our tipster was intrigued by this behavior from a Harmony remote and decided to investigate. Could the remote be used to manipulate something other than playback? Or could Apple sell a proprietary IR blaster to plug into the USB port on the Apple TV? We’ll keep digging for an answer.

To sum up, it appears iOS 4.3 could add some new sales vectors for Apple and some more data sharing services:

  • Online gaming, from MMO’s to arcade games using Xbox Live-style matches and associated merchandising. Beyond your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, these games could be played through the Apple TV. There could even be a new controller in the future, leveraging the infrared or Bluetooth connectivity on the ATV.
  • Video streaming rentals and merchandising through Apple TV, quite possibly using the North Carolina datacenter to push the streams.
  • The mysterious “Flagstaff” and a potential remote screensaver to enable stronger Mac/iOS/Apple TV connections.
  • Support for 3rd party remotes.

Any way you slice it, the next update to iOS looks to deliver some serious mojo to the little black box in the living room. (TUAW)

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