Is Apple TV Taking Aim at Xbox?

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Hoping to play Angry Birds on your television? You may not have to wait for the official console versions because iOS gaming may be coming to the new Apple TV, according to rumors. Bits of code found in the latest beta version of iOS 4.3 released to developers hints that gaming, multiplayer functionality, leader boards such as the iOS Game Center and gaming controllers may be coming to Apple's set-top box, according to Engadget.

It's not clear whether gaming would happen via downloadable apps (the Apple TV has just 8GB of storage) or some kind of online streaming service. Apple TV is built on iOS, giving it the capability to run iOS apps. In fact, some hackers put apps on the device such as a weather app and the Plex media player app. But Apple has remained mum about future app possibilities for the Apple TV.

Battle for the Living Room

If the rumors are true, and gaming is coming to Apple TV, that means Apple is slowly forming a strategy to invade the living room to compete with Microsoft and Google.

For years, technology companies have been trying to figure out a way to merge your personal content library, online applications, gaming and television into one interface. Google TV, a platform that lets you search television and Web content and promised third-party apps, was the search giant's first attempt to gain a foothold in the living room. But Google TV came out of the starting gate with some major stumbles after all four major television networks -- NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox -- cut off video streaming access from their respective websites to Google TV devices. Hulu has also yet to appear on Google TV.

Microsoft has been trying a two-pronged approach to break into living rooms with the PC and the Xbox 360. The company's gaming console has been slowly adding online services to Xbox LIVE such as Netflix and ESPN. But Microsoft is also holding on to the dream that PC's running Windows Media Center -- a content playback and cataloging program -- will one day be the primary way people interface with their televisions. So far, few people have been willing to put a computer in their living room, but Microsoft isn't giving up hope. Purported Microsoft documents leaked in June suggest the company's forthcoming Windows 8 will yet again try to put a PC in your living room.

Other companies including Yahoo with its Internet widgets and Roku's ever-expanding array of TV streaming services are also battling it out for space in your entertainment center.

Apple, meanwhile, has largely remained coy about its interest in Apple TV. The company has famously referred to its set-top box as a hobby, but recently overhauled Apple TV, making it a cheaper and simpler set-top box. Apple TV offers iTunes movie and TV rentals streamed straight to your television instead of downloads as it used to do. Netflix streaming has also been added, and as always, you can access your collection of photos, music and videos stored on your PC or Mac. Apple is also pushing a new feature called AirPlay that lets you stream content from your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad to your Apple TV.

The new strategy appears to be paying off for Apple. The company recently reported it had sold more than one million Apple TV's in the device's first four months of sales. Two things still missing from Apple TV are the ability to access Web content through a browser and the ability to stream Web content from your PC to your Apple TV.

It's not clear when Apple would introduce gaming to the Apple TV or even if the few bits of random code buried deep in its latest iOS beta release truly are for gaming. But if Apple can convince its large third-party developer community to start developing Apple TV games (and eventually apps), combined with Apple's easy-to-use Apple TV hardware, it may have found a winning combination to get a foothold in the living room.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

This story, "Is Apple TV Taking Aim at Xbox?" was originally published by PCWorld.

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