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Apple rumoured for Valve console gaming partnership

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Valve Steam Box prototype

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Apple could be about to agree a partnership with publisher Valve that would involve video games integration with the firm's rumoured connected TV device, various reports have said.

On Friday, Apple Insider reported that Apple chief executive Tim Cook visited the Bellevue, Washington, headquarters of Valve, creator of the Half-Life and Left 4 Dead game series, along with the Steam online gaming platform.

Valve, founded by former Microsoft employees Gabe Newell and Mike Harrington in the mid-1990s, is widely rumoured to be working on a console version of Steam, the PC games distribution platform that offers more than 1,500 titles and has over 30m active users.

The nature of Cook's visit remains a mystery, but it has raised questions over whether Apple may be preparing to tap into Valve's expertise in providing PC and console-quality games over a platform that works similarly to iTunes.

Some commentators have suggested that Valve may be about to become a key partner in Apple's 'assault on the living room', including a widely rumoured new connected TV set expected to launch this year or in 2013.

Rumours of an ambitious move by Apple into console video games date back to 2009, but so far the California-based firm has focused mostly on computing and mobile.

In 2007, Newell complained that Apple showed an interest in games, but did not follow that up.

"We have this pattern with Apple, where we meet with them, people there go 'Wow, gaming is incredibly important, we should do something with gaming', and then we'll say, 'OK, here are three things you could do to make that better', and then they say OK, and then we never see them again," he said at the time.

"And then a year later, a new group of people show up, who apparently have no idea that the last group of people were there, and never follow through on anything.

"So they seem to think that they want to do gaming, but there's never any follow through on any of the things they say they're going to do."

This impasse changed in 2010 following the move to bring games such as Half-Life 2, Left 4 Dead 2 and Team Fortress 2 to the Mac platform. Last year, Valve's Portal 2 was released simultaneously for the Mac and Windows.

Apple has also got further behind gaming in recent years, introducing the Games Centre application for the iPhone, iPod and iPad, while games have also featured heavily at launches of new iPhone and iPad models.

As recent job advertisements at Valve strongly suggest that the firm is working on a console, dubbed by some as the 'Steam Box', it is thought that this could be timed to coincide with Apple's connected TV project.

However, it remains unclear how the two firms would work together, whether Valve may use Apple as a hardware partner or Apple may look to bring some kind of Steam application to its rumoured TV sets.

Another possibility could involve Apple acquiring Valve, but while it could afford the deal, this appears relatively unlikely as the iPad maker does not tend to favour major acquisitions.

Interestingly, on the day of Cook's visit to Valve, the publisher's Michael Abrash posted a lengthy blog post revealing that Valve is working on "wearable computing", technology that goes beyond current conventions.

"By 'wearable computing' I mean mobile computing where both computer-generated graphics and the real world are seamlessly overlaid in your view; there is no separate display that you hold in your hands (think Terminator vision)," he wrote.

"The underlying trend as we've gone from desktops through laptops and notebooks to tablets is one of having computing available in more places, more of the time.

"The logical endpoint is computing everywhere, all the time - that is, wearable computing - and I have no doubt that 20 years from now that will be standard, probably through glasses or contacts, but for all I know through some kind of more direct neural connection."

Abrash said that the technology, which sounds similar to the Project Glass smart spectacles recently unveiled by Google, could be introduced within 3-5 years time.

He added: "I'm pretty confident that platform shift will happen a lot sooner than 20 years - almost certainly within 10, but quite likely as little as 3-5, because the key areas - input, processing/power/size, and output - that need to evolve to enable wearable computing are shaping up nicely, although there's a lot still to be figured out."

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