iPhone Game Controllers: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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What's Missing? 

If there is one thing the iPhone needs to be a more complete gaming experience, it's buttons. The smooth, touchscreen surface doesn't give players the same type of feel they have grown accustomed to through a control pad. Third party peripheral manufacturers have tried to create devices that enable iPhone and iPod Touch owners to have a more traditional handheld experience, but have yet to introduce anything even mildly successful.

It becomes apparent why these devices have not won the hearts of gamers when you look at the options:

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 Currently, there are shells on the market that are supposed to make the iPhone feel more like a controller, but these serve as nothing more than handgrips for an iPhone. Extensions such as the generically-named "Game Controller Grip" are, to say the least, cheap pieces of plastic with almost to no use. They add little to the experience, aside from a more economical grip.

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Peripherals such as the "Steering Wheel" do exactly what the "Game Controller Grip" does, but does it less efficiently. Again, the iPhone is a portable device. Adding a huge plastic ring around your iPhone greatly reduces its portability. Consumers know this, and so should the manufacturers of this product. The solution is to create something that makes it comfortable to grip the iPhone while adding functionality and avoiding turning the portable into something that no longer fits into a pocket.

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22Moo (in concept) has almost nailed it. They introduced their GameBone control pad, which houses the iPhone or iPod Touch, and connects to the 30-pin dock connector located at the bottom of the device. Though not set for release until late 2010, it is the most promising controller concept for the iPhone. The downside is that game developers must create their games in order to be compatible with the hardware, or it won't work. The GameBone is actually a redesign of their previous controller, called the GameBone Pro. While the GameBone Pro's original dog bone appearance initially made it the butt of many jokes across the blogosphere, the redesign seems to have potential. On the official website, 22Moo says they are trying to figure out a way to create compatibility with the iPad as well, so it's likely that the controller may support wifi, Bluetooth or both, further enhancing playability.

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Thanks, but No Thanks…


As mentioned before, the iPhone needs button controls of some sort in order to enhance the gaming experience. The games that try to emulate button presses via the touchscreen don't manage to get it quite right. Perhaps by supporting controller peripherals, the iPhone can help pull in the gamers that demand buttons. One can't deny the added precision players would get in a game like the iPhone port of Street Fighter IV by implementing real buttons and a control pad.

The challenge these controllers face right now is breaking into the mainstream. Because they are sold as nothing more than third party peripherals, it is unlikely that they will grow much in popularity. If developers choose to support devices such as the GameBone, it may make for more of the traditional types of games hardcore players want. Still, without customers willing to buy the product, developer support could also dwindle.

Though button controls on an iPhone would make for a wonderful experience. Still, the question remains of whether or not such a device can be sold, and for now, that is anybody's guess.

Louie Baur

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