A mere three years ago, talking about Apple as a powerhouse in the gaming industry would have been as laughable as trying to breathe peanut butter. iPod’s were music players. Mac’s were machines for creative hippie types. In 2007, gaming was the last thing on Apple’s mind. But then in 2008 Apple released the iPhone SDK, allowing developers to create their own games and applications for Apple’s popular handheld device. And the rest, as they say, is history.

In less than a year, iPhone gaming took the world by storm. Apple followed up this success with the recent release of the iPad, a device with similar capabilities that allows for bigger games at bigger prices to satisfy developers and players alike. Even the Mac seems to have caught gaming fever, with Valve finally embracing Apple’s personal computing platform through the offering of Steam and a large selection of their back catalogue. It would seem that Apple has caught gaming fever, and there’s no cure in sight. So what’s left to conquer?

The living room.

Home console gaming has long been the centerpiece of the gaming industry as a whole. When you say “video games” to someone who knows very little of the subject, their minds quickly float to franchises like Mario or Halo – staples of living room entertainment. And yet the living room is the one part of the house that Apple has yet to successfully crack into.

They tried in early 2007 with the release of Apple TV, a digital media receiver that would allow consumers to purchase iTunes content and watch it right on their HDTV’s. Other features like YouTube and Flickr support rounded out the offering, but public reception to the device was tepid at best. Many simply considered it too expensive and too limited in its capabilities when compared to other digital home theatre solutions.

But what if it wasn’t too expensive? And what if it wasn’t too limited? More importantly, what if it could play games?

Engadget is reporting that a rebirth of Apple TV may be in the works, and that this new version would feature cloud storage, a $99 price tag, and iPhone OS. Let me repeat in case it didn’t sink in: the new version of Apple TV could feature iPhone OS. Like the iPad and iPhone before it, including iPhone OS would almost inevitably mean iPhone SDK, and iPhone SDK would mean developers creating unique apps exclusively for Apple TV – new apps like games.

As has quickly become apparent on the iPad, game developers would need to rethink their development strategies when it comes to the platform – nobody is going to want to simply play stretched out iPhone games on their TV. But a future where companies like Activision and EA are releasing titles through AppleTV like they do on Steam for PC’s now? That seems surprisingly possible, especially when you consider how many companies have been making similar efforts in recent years (I’m looking at you, OnLive). And both Microsoft and Sony have seen success offering full retail downloads on their services for quite some time, so it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Of course, Apple TV wouldn’t need to bring these AAA mainstream publishers to its service to see success. Both the iPad and iPhone have proven to be bastions of mobile gaming for the casual gamer – a new Apple TV would likely offer the same appeal. But while the iPhone proved wonderful for tower defense and match 3 titles, and the iPad has been exquisite for hidden object and board games, what would Apple TV succeed with? Platformers? Multiplayer experiences? And how would we control games on the system? Touch controls are obviously out of the question – would Apple TV come equipped with a gaming friendly remote of some kind?

And then there’s the big question – is it even likely that this rumor is real?

While we can’t say for certain, all signs point to yes. Apple almost always has a new device up its sleeve, and considering the main focus of their competition has shifted from Microsoft to Google it only makes sense that Steve Jobs would want the chance to one-up the recently announced Google TV.

With iPhone gaming firmly entrenched as a market leader in mobile, and the iPad games scene still finding it’s ground, it seems perfectly logical that Apple would have its eye on the one area of the house that they’ve yet to cement themselves. Don’t expect to hear about this one at the upcoming WWDC – but I wouldn’t be surprised if an announcement wasn’t far behind.