Friday, December 30, 2011

Is this iOS controller the future of gaming?


Gaming on iOS has come a long way. Yet despite the advances that the A5 processor has brought, there is one potentially huge obstacle to enjoying a console-like experience on the iPhone or iPad: touchscreen controls. Developers have done the best that they can with the medium, crafting virtual analog sticks and swipe gestures for camera panning. Yet it still doesn’t compare to the tried-and-true experience of using a physical controller. A company called 60beat is trying to change that with a new controller that is compatible with iOS devices.
If you thought that this controller would be of the Bluetooth wireless variety, you’d be wrong. The 60Beat GamePad connects through, of all places, the headphone jack (a 4-foot headphone cable, to be exact). The controller is nearly a spitting image of current generation console and PC controllers, with two analog sticks, D-pad, and ten action buttons (including the two analog joysticks).
An accessory like the GamePad will live and die by its software support (or lack thereof). Right now, the picture isn’t pretty: it’s only supported by two games. Making matters worse, they probably aren’t games you’ll want. It’s supported by children’s game Bugdom 2 and top-down zombie shooterAftermath (iPhone only).
60Beat promises on its website that more titles will be coming in February. For its sake, let’s hope it’s lining up some top-notch developers, because nobody is going to buy a $50 accessory that only supports a couple of second-tier games.
With that said, the potential for the GamePad — or something similar — is huge. This is particularly the case when you consider AirPlay. Using a controller to play on your phone or tablet might be a bit awkward, but when you’re streaming it via AirPlay to a 56-inch HDTV, you have a new gaming console.
Gaming is an area where Apple has loads of untapped potential. Sure, Angry Birds and Cut the Ropekeep legions of casual gamers happy, but with the A6 processor (that will probably arrive within a few months with the iPad 3), iOS gaming will take another leap forward. The gap between mobile and console gaming will shrink even more. If Apple wants to, it could recruit major developers, release its own controller, and turn the console gaming industry upside down.
If OnLive’s iPad app ever gets approved, it will beat Apple to the punch. The cloud gaming service lets gamers play PC games like Batman: Arkham City,L.A. Noire, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution on mobile devices. It also offers a controller, though it connects via Bluetooth. The app’s release has been delayed, so perhaps Apple does have some gaming plans — and sees OnLive as a threat.
In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on the 60Beat GamePad and see if it gets enough software support to make it worth its $50 price tag.