When it comes to iOS gaming, the biggest complaint that continues to come up is the lack of physical controls. While veteran iOS gamers have gotten used to virtual controls, games still often suffer from not having actual physical buttons and joysticks to use. While an iOS device that actually has physical gameplay buttons on it is unlikely to ever appear, some people and manufacturers are looking to provide physical controls to gamers on touchscreen devices, either by facsimile physical joysticks, or through external accessories to provide actual physical controls to games.

First up is the Fling Joystick from Ten One Design. Designed to simulate an analog joystick on a touch screen, primarily the iPad (it appears to be designed for the wider bezel of the iPad, and might not work as well on the iPhone and iPod touch), that you stick on the iPad screen, and works to simulate a physical controller’s analog joystick. The product claims to leave no residue on the iPad, and to increase your accuracy in games that simulate analog joysticks. You can buy both a single Fling joystick, or buy a 2-pack for dual-stick shooters. The joysticks appear to be designed for iPad-only games, but some games running in 2X mode appear to work, such as Secret of Mana, according to the publicly-edited compatibility list. Some games may not work as well due to the way their joysticks work or how they’re positioned, so it may be a bit of a crapshoot depending on the games you want to play. The Fling is available now, and it will run you $19.99 for a single unit, and $29.99 for a pair.

A second virtual joystick option is the JOYSTICK-IT, exclusively from ThinkGeek. It appears to work similarly to the Fling, simulating a joystick on a touch screen, but it has a different design, more similar to an arcade joystick than a controller thumbpad. However, it still appears to work as an analog joystick for 3D games and dual-stick shooters – it would be curious to see a joystick work to simulate a digital joystick, if it was at all possible. While the JOYSTICk-IT is more expensive than the Fling, running $24.99 for one and $39.99 for a set of two, the shape could be preferable for some people, and give a more arcade-like experience.

Also coming from ThinkGeek and ION Audio is the iCADE. This was originally a joke product from ThinkGeek on April Fool’s Day, but similar to products like the Tauntaun sleeping bag going from joke to real product, the iCADE is soon to be real as well. This lets you dock the iPad into a miniature arcade cabinet, that features an arcade-style joystick and 8 buttons, for any various configuration of games. The iCade connects to the iPad via Bluetooth, and claims to offer support via an API for other apps to support it. iCADE will support Asteroids and other Atari arcade games at launch, though. It will be interesting to see how Apple reacts to a device like this, and if it’s allowed, although external game controllers have been theoretically allowable since iOS 3.0, as long as they’re Apple-approved devices, but no company has gotten on releasing one. There’s theoretically no reason why a Bluetooth controller shouldn’t be allowed, as a dock accessory would have to work through its own API as well. The iCADE is still in development, and is “Coming Soon” – but here’s hoping for April 1st just for the sake of irony.

However, most of these control options are designed for the iPad and other tablet devices – for gamers on the iPhone and iPod touch, their physical control options are more limited. One of the most intriguing physical control options for these smaller devices is the iControlPad from Craig Rothwell, who has worked on the Open Pandora handheld. This device communicates over Bluetooth, and offers support with a variety of different protocols, though it will work as a Bluetooth keyboard in its most basic mode, with the d-pad, 4 face buttons, and 2 rear buttons each mapped to a keyboard keypress. The iControlPad isn’t just a gamepad either – it has a built-in 1350 mAh battery that supports a generic USB output so you can charge a variety of phones and devices with it. iControlPad is also future-proof, as it uses a clamp system to support a variety of phones – including iPhone and iPod touch sized devices, and smaller Android phones. A larger clamp set is in the works to support larger phones like the Samsung Galaxy S line.

Unfortunately, the iControlPad might be of limited use for non-jailbroken iOS users. According to Craig Rothwell, one of the designers of the iControlPad, the odds that Apple would allow support for the profiles that support the analog joysticks are low, though if apps can use keyboard input as game commands, the iControlPad could be supported through that. Considering that a device like the iCADE exists and offers similar Bluetooth control, there is a chance that games could actually support it in the legitimate App Store, if Apple approved it, though Craig Rothwell has said before that Apple would not approve apps that support the iControlPad’s API. He and the rest of the iControlPad team have been in touch with some iOS developers about implementing the iControlPad into their apps, though these would likely be jailbroken-only apps. Android apps are more in luck; due to the OS’s less restrictive policies, many apps already support Bluetooth gamepads, and so they would be able to easily support the iControlPad. The iControlPad is currently in production, and the first batch of units should be shipping out in the next month.

It will be interesting to see if any of these devices catch on in any meaningful way, or if they’ll just be devices for gaming enthusiasts looking to simulate the feel of gaming controls on their touch screen devices in any way. As some of these devices start to ship out to customers and as new controller solutions are potentially announced, we’ll have the latest news and impressions of these devices.

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