A Game Changer for Apple

Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) disruption of the gaming market was entirely inadvertent. The company merely provided a blank canvas for developers, who promptly turned iOS (and subsequently Android) into vibrant gaming platforms. Mobile gaming has become increasingly popular, which has helped contribute to a decline in handheld gaming device sales.

One way that Apple could have further reinforced this trend would have been to launch a first-party hardware controller, since some game genres don't lend well to touchscreen controls. Apple creating such an accessory was always a remote possibility, but with iOS 7, the Mac maker is quietly doing the next best thing.

Apple is preparing to expand its MFi Program, the licensing program for companies to make third-party accessories, to include support for third-party hardware game controllers for the first time. The company will introduce a new game controller framework for both iOS 7 and OS X 10.9, but iOS is a more robust gaming platform than OS X.

Apple has a strong ecosystem of third-party accessories to complement its products, and the move could spark a whole new category, further strengthening the platform as a whole. Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) Android has long included support for hardware controllers, which has given it an advantage with certain types of games like first-person shooters.

NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA  ) is also hoping to capitalize on the demand for such devices with Shield, which also runs on Android and leverages the company's Tegra Zone that's full of Android games optimized for its chipset. NVIDIA also sees Android's openness as an important opportunity to disrupt the current model of gaming.

I recently spoke with NVIDIA's Rob Csongor about Shield, and he noted how large the third-party gaming accessory market has become. Existing solutions aren't exactly convenient and integrated, which NVIDIA sees as an opportunity. Csongor also said that 76% of all Google Play revenue comes from gaming titles, presumably referring to estimates from App Annie for domestic game spending on Google Play in December. That figure is even higher in other countries -- 88% in Japan and 95% in South Korea.

On iOS, 16 of the top 20 grossing apps are currently games, of which an overwhelming 15 are freemium titles that bank on in-app purchases. Mobile gaming is here to stay, and including hardware controller support in iOS will be a literal game changer.

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