Apple may soon release a dedicated gaming machine, reports claim, whether that's the case or not is subject to speculation, but there's plenty of evidence to suggest the company plans to make its platforms more important to gamers.

The biggest slice of proof lendingits weight to the new rumour comes in Apple's move last week to revise its trademark for usage of the Apple brand to include:

"Toys, games and playthings, namely, hand-held units for playing electronic games; hand-held units for playing video games; stand alone video game machines; electronic games other than those adapted for use with television receivers only; LCD game machines; electronic educational game machines; toys, namely battery-powered computer games."

It's just the latest in a series of moves that show the company is quietly getting its gaming act together. The switch to Intel processors enabled third party developers to more quickly port titles to the Mac, with Electronic Arts last year beginning to do just that, using the Cider game development platform.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs last year told attendees at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that two of the world's largest PC game developers are already working to bring titles to the Mac: Electornic Arts and ID Games.

First fruits of this union have already been seen in the release of games from EA, including Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Need for Speed: Carbon and Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars.

But it's not just the Mac; most avid Mac watchers will be aware of the steady stream of casual gaming titles making an appearance through iTunes for use with Apple's latest iPods (with the exception of the iPod touch). The rate of these releases continues to grow.

Now, with the development platform for the iPhone and the iPod touch expected to reach third parties later this month, the stage is clearly set for the release of more complex games for use with these more powerful devices, games designed to exploit Apple's 3.5-inch touchscreen.

Beyond the company's family of mobile devices, one system still stands as an orphan child in Apple's product range, the Apple TV. Castigated for its relative lack of features and high price, Apple has already confirmed plans to upgrade the device, lending new features and introducing the capacity to directly purchase items from iTunes using the machine.

And it's this point that needs to be mulled over when considering any stealthy plans Apple may have to introduce a self-branded games console. With an existing installed base of Apple TV users, and the company's seeming determination to achieve success for that device, could the inclusion of a USB port and optical drive on Apple TV have been a far-sioghted strategic move for its future deployment as more than an entertainment client?

Is the Apple TV a future gaming console?

Clearly, all of this is rumour and speculation, but which move makes the most sense - to compete with established console giants such as Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, or to choose a more circumspect path and introduce gaming as a new feature in a product that has already been designed as a TV companion product?

We'll see. Whatever the actual outcome (and face it, there's little profit in Apple speculation), the company's move to change its trademark to specifically include gaming is perhaps an important one.