Microsoft’s Rumored ‘Keystone’ Streaming Stick Shows What Apple Should Have Aimed For

This device would be designed with Xbox Game Pass in mind, to lower the entry cost for Xbox content.
Xbox One Controller on Mac Credit: Diego Marín / Unsplash
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Apple’s set-top box has already become something of an anachronism in the world of modern streaming devices, and now Microsoft has a new streaming stick in the works that’s likely to make the Apple TV even more of an outlier.

According to an exclusive report from Windows Central, the Xbox maker is poised to bring its cloud gaming to even more living rooms with a new streaming stick.

Codenamed “Keystone,” this device would be designed with Xbox Game Pass in mind, with the goal of lowering the cost of entry for Xbox content. It almost certainly wouldn’t be powerful enough to support standard console gaming, which would remain the exclusive domain of the full-sized Xbox Series X/S and their heirs and successors.

However, it would ensure that Microsoft’s cloud gaming service can compete with others such as Google Stadia and Amazon Luna, both of which are available on those companies’ much more affordable Chromecast and Fire Stick devices.

A Missed Opportunity?

Technically speaking, such a device could arguably be a rival to Apple Arcade — “could” being the keyword here.

Even Apple’s most hardcore fans aren’t myopic enough to claim that Apple Arcade is anywhere on the same playing field as Xbox Game Pass, Google Stadia, or GeForce Now. It’s probably fair to say Apple Arcade isn’t even in the same stadium.

Sure, Apple Arcade has had its moments. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Fantasian is nothing short of an epic work of art and an eminently enjoyable, deep, and interesting game. It’s one of the few titles that’s caused non-Apple users to look at the service with envy.

Apple clearly did a fantastic job convincing Sakaguchi to join its Apple Arcade team, but sadly, Fantasian is more of an exception than a rule. It may be a huge feather in Apple’s cap, but it pales in comparison to the hit parade of titles that “real” gaming services boast, such as Halo, Need for Speed, Among Us, Mass Effect, Skyrim, and Fallout 3, to name a few.

Rumors have persisted for years about Apple’s plans to get into the gaming industry. While it’s likely the company is tossing ideas around, so many of these reports also feel like wishful thinking. Apple fans have been dreaming of the company’s return to gaming since the days of The Pippin.

As with its living room strategy, it seems Apple may still be trying to figure out how to succeed in this market.

One thing’s for certain, though, Apple Arcade and the Apple TV as it stands today isn’t the answer. Apple’s going to have to come up with something much better. Fortunately, Apple has a habit of surprising us.

The Eccentric Apple TV

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge Apple TV fan. I’ve been using Apple’s set-top boxes exclusively since the first Apple TV arrived in 2007 with a 40GB internal hard drive. However, I’m also under no illusions that, like the HomePod, this is an accessory for folks like me who are firmly entrenched in the Apple ecosystem.

It’s the same reason I have several HomePods scattered throughout my home. The 2021 Apple TV 4K does a great job when paired up with a couple of original HomePods for Dolby Atmos Surround Sound, which is a setup that other streaming boxes can’t rival.

The Apple TV also doubles as a HomeKit hub and ties into HomeKit Secure Video, so I can see who’s at my front door via a picture-in-picture window that appears over whatever I’m currently watching, or even just the gorgeous Apple TV aerial screensaver. I also used it for Apple Fitness+ workouts.

However, I’m also not a serious console gamer. I have a PS3 that I picked up primarily to play Mirror’s Edge in 2010 that I haven’t even turned on in years. I have a game controller paired to my Apple TV and enjoy a few Apple Arcade titles and other App Store games, but Fantasian is about the only one among those I’d call console quality. There are a lot of good reasons to get an Apple TV, but gaming isn’t one of them.

The Apple TV also comes with a relatively high cost of entry. That’s arguably by design, and it’s not too steep of a price considering everything it’s capable of. However, it’s also more than most folks need from a set-top box.

This leaves the Apple TV in an odd in-between place. It’s priced out of the range of mere streaming devices, yet it’s not even close to being ready to rival an actual game console.

Fortunately, there’s still hope for Apple’s living room ambitions, and if the latest rumors are true, the company may finally be getting closer to figuring it out. A much more powerful Apple TV is reportedly still in the works; last year’s Apple TV 4K may have just been the opening act, and what’s coming may serve as the foundation for a full-fledging Apple gaming console.

Meanwhile, there are reliable reports that a lower-cost Apple TV is coming later this year that could become what the HomePod mini was to the original HomePod. This would not only allow Apple to compete more effectively with traditional streaming-focused devices but would also clear the field to sell a more powerful and feature-rich Apple TV without leaving more casual users behind.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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