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360iDev: Getting ready for apps on the Apple TV


Developer Michael Gile took the stage at 360iDev in Denver to talk about the next generation of iOS development: Apple TV app development. Apple hasn't officially released or even announced iOS apps on the Apple TV yet, but that hasn't stopped Gile and a community of jailbreakers from diving in and getting code running on it anyway. Gile started his speech with a prediction: "Apple TV 2 will be the biggest game console in history," he said. If Apple implements a way to play iOS games on the device directly, it'll have a gigantic game library -- it's already larger than many of the biggest consoles in history combined.

Gile said he believes there's still space to conquer in the living room. Xbox, Netflix, and Roku have all made bids for setting up "set-top boxes." No one has brought about the kind of "grand strategy" that Apple likes, with a complete vertical solution for selling hardware, software, and entertainment content (through iTunes, and its install base complete with credit cards ready for purchase).

The rest of Gile's talk was mostly demos of the code he's already gotten running on the Apple TV. He started off with the GLTeapot, a traditional "Hello World" kind of demo used for 3D developers. He then dived into the code, showing off the interface Apple has already included on the Apple TV system (though none of it is yet officially documented or available to developers -- this is all internal code used by the company to run the device). While iOS uses the UIKit framework to run most of its code, the Apple TV uses a "BackRow" (or "BR") framework, apparently a twist on the "FrontRow" application that originated back in the days of Apple's "experiment." This "BRKit" does have lots of the standard UIKit ties, though Gile pointed out there are still quite a few differences in both names and functionality.

Still, he and the rest of the jailbreak community have gotten quite a bit done already. Gile showed off a navigation app similar to Apple's own app, though hooked up to his own applications. He was able to load up and play media assets (in this case, a trailer for Sony's Spider-Man movie), and he ran through a few other demos and functions of what the code was capable of.

But perhaps the most exciting parts of Gile's talk were two things he wasn't able to show off just yet. He says he's grabbed the recently released source code for id games' Wolfenstein 3D and Quake and has been working hard on porting it over to the Apple TV's system, with a nice bit of success so far. Gile also announced that next month he'll be releasing a version of the popular cocos2D iOS development platform that will also work with the Apple TV, essentially making it very easy for cocos2D developers to get their games up and running on Apple TV without issue.

Gile was quite enthusiastic about Apple TV development. He made it very clear he thinks Apple is going to go big on this iOS device in the living room, and he was quite serious about building apps for the platform in order to have them running and ready to go on day one. "I want to be the Trism of Apple TV 2," he said (referring to the original jailbreak game that made it big when the App Store first launched), and he invited any other interested developers in the room to join him in his quest.

It's still unclear just how Apple will approach iOS development on the Apple TV, whether it will simply extend the current SDK the way it did with the iPad or instead offer up an entirely new way to control and code apps and games. But whatever Apple decides, it's clear Gile wants to be ready for it.

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