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Apple iPad could get hard-core gaming support, analyst predicts

The expected expansion of iPad mouse support could signal that Apple wants to take its gaming capabilities beyond Apple Arcade, according to BayStreet Research.

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If Apple expands mouse support for the iPad, it could open the device up for more hard-core games (pictured here: someone playing Shinsekai Into the Depths). 

James Martin/CNET

Apple Arcade may be getting all of the attention for its range of 100-plus games that appeal to families, kids and casual gamers, but Apple may have another plan in mind for the iPad that will appeal to more hard-core gamers in the future. 

Apple brought mouse support to iPadOS only for accessibility purposes this fall, but the company may be planning to add full mouse support in the near future to make the iPad a productivity and gaming platform, according to Cliff Maldonado, principal analyst and founder of BayStreet Research, a firm that researches smartphone, tablet and smartwatch markets. 

"The iPad is becoming a PC," Maldonado said. "It's a game-changer ... To me, it's Apple executing a vision of 'we want the iPad to be as good and as powerful as the MacBook.'" 

Apple didn't immediately reply to a request for comment. 

Adding mouse support to iPadOS has many implications for gaming, Maldonado said.

"There are three types of gaming: PC gaming, console gaming and mobile gaming," he said. "Apple could have a PC gaming play with the iPad with the mouse and the chips prowess they have, the way they're moving these things forward. It could be Apple's first foray into hard-core gaming." 

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Apple Arcade is clearly Apple's biggest step into gaming, but it still appeals to more casual mobile gamers, not hard-core PC or console gamers, Maldonado said. 

"To me, Apple Arcade is basically an extension of the Apple Music play, which is 'Let's create a service,'" Maldonado said. "What I'm talking about is changing to a different level of gaming." 

Apple's focus remains on the customer and developers, and a shift to hard-core gaming and mouse support would give both more opportunities and benefits, Maldonado said. The addition of full-fledged keyboard and mouse support could give competitive gamers an edge. While Microsoft and Razer are working on adding keyboard and mouse support to the Xbox One, developers can decide if users are allowed to use these in place of a traditional controller. Fortnite players who use an unauthorized adapter have been banned from matches due to the unfair advantage. (Fortnite, and other similar multiplayer online games, use input-based matchmaking to level the field.)

"It could be a perfect disruption to PC gaming," Maldonado said. 

Should it come to fruition, full mouse support would also turn the iPad into a productivity platform, potentially allowing users to fully replace their laptop with the tablet and its keyboard and mouse accessories. This would open up the iPad to more compatibility with the Microsoft Office suite and G Suite tools, Maldonado said. 

With the iPad starting at $329 (£349, AU$529), mouse support could also put the tablets in direct competition with Google's Chromebooks, which start in the same price range and have been popular as lower-cost PCs. 

In the past two years, Apple has refreshed and redesigned its range of iPads and iPad Pros, leading to the strongest growth of iPad sales in six years during the first three months of 2019, CNET reported in September. The introduction of iPadOS signals that the iPad will continue to be an area of great focus for Apple in the coming years. 

TechRepublic's James Sanders contributed to this report.