Posts Tagged external controller

Developer: Ion Audio
Price: $69.99 MSRP
Hardware Tested On: iPod touch 4

Usability Rating: ★★★★½
Protection Rating: ★★★★½
Re-use Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

One of the new iCade models that ION Audio is putting out is the iPhone and iPod touch version of the iCade, the iCade Mobile. The controller repurposes the iCade’s joystick into a d-pad, the left 4 buttons into face buttons, and the right 4 buttons into shoulder buttons. The controller is overall about as wide as the iPad’s screen without the bezel. It fits both the iPhone and iPod touch, though it isn’t wide enough to fit even a thin case. All device keys and buttons (except for the home button) become inaccessible due to the hardware design. The holder can be spun around to be viewable in both landscape and portrait though.

The important thing to understand is that the iCade Mobile is technically the same as the iCade, so developers do not need to add specific support for their games to make the iCade Mobile work. Two issues that pop up though are that first, some games do not have iCade enabled on the iPhone side despite supporting it on the iPad, such as Super Crate Box.

Second, games that have chosen non-protocol uses for the buttons have odd control schemes on the iCade Mobile. For example, Mystery of the Japanese Werewolf, a fun platformer that has iCade support, has controls configured for the original iCade where the right 6 buttons alternate between jump and attack, and the red buttons on the left column are pause. On the iCade Mobile, this means that the bottom and left buttons are pause, and the top and right face buttons are jump and attack respectively. These issues are ones that will need to be addressed by developers via simple configuration tweaks.

The iCade Mobile succeeds not in that it makes the iPhone into an arcade machine, but that it makes it into a capable handheld system. It feels like now I’m playing some lost Game Boy Advance games, especially in landscape mode. The d-pad and buttons work very well for platforming and action games, especially the kinds of retro games that beg for controllers. While it’s a wide controller, it’s still ergonomic. The controller handily still turns off after a few minutes of inactivity, and it actually has a dedicated on/off switch.

The inaccessible hardware buttons would be a problem solved by the addition of Bluetooth system keys like the ones on Bluetooth keyboards. This would make it possible to adjust volume, and call up the soft keyboard. The latter functionality would be perfect for downloading more iCade-compatible games.

That’s the great thing about the iCade: it’s become the de facto standard for external controllers with a wide array of support. There are more games coming on a regular basis with iCade compatibility. Heck, this could even be used as a controller for an iPad. This is definitely the iOS external controller to get.

There’s a new gamepad available for iOS devices, and this one should appeal to those who prefer their controllers wired instead of wireless. 60beat’s GamePad, now available, is a $50 external game controller with 6 face buttons, 2 analog joysticks that can click in as buttons, a d-pad, and 2 shoulder buttons. It doesn’t use the dock port or USB to connect – instead it connects through the headphone/mic port, in a similar method to the iRig. While this naturally means the speakers won’t work, a headphone cable splitter is included. As the demo video below shows, games can recognize when the GamePad is plugged in and support all of its controls immediately. This will offer a low-latency way for games to be playable with physical controls.

Will it be popular, though? With no unified gamepad standard defined by Apple, external gamepads have been a kind of chaotic wasteland. The only thing close to a standard has been the iCade, which dozens of games support; the iControlPad offers iCade emulation support along with its own modes of operation. The availability of analog joysticks and an easy setup process should prove intriguing to developers and gamers interested in physical controls. However, the new standard that would need to be implemented would be a challenge; finding some way to make it work with some extra code alongside iCade support would go a long way in terms of adoption.

However, the road to developer and consumer adoption may be tricky indeed. Right now, only 2 games support the GamePad, and while the list is set to expand in February, the price will need to be justified through a more expansive list of games. Still, this wired controller should promise to be a more elegant and easy to use solution than the battery-draining and occasionally laggy Bluetooth keyboard emulation techniques that other external controllers have so far used.

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