Developer: Ion Audio
Price: $89.99 MSRP
Hardware Tested On: iPad 2
Re-use Value Rating:
ION Audio has refreshed the original iCade as the iCade Core, acting as a more compact version of the original controller. Functionally, it’s identical; the buttons feel slightly softer compared to the original iCade, but hardware-wise, it is identical and has the same compatibility.
The benefit to the iCade Core is that it I just so much more portable and versatile. Want to play on the couch with the iCade in the lap? Go for it. It’s also much better for playing on a TV via HDMI. Also? There’s no assembly required.
The drawback is of course that it just does not look as cool without the arcade cabinet. The iPad stand does have some room to slide around in the space carved out for it, so having a case might be a good safety mechanism. As well, one of the things I would like to see would be at least a key combination to call up the software keyboard, because until it idles out or Bluetooth is manually turned off, the iCade Core will take over keyboard input.
Bottom line, I must say that while both systems are functionally identical, the iCade Core’s increased portability and practicality makes it a superior option to the classic iCade for iPad owners, unless of course the original arcade-cabinet style is being used as a decoration somewhere.
Developer: Ion Audio
Price: $69.99 MSRP
Hardware Tested On: iPod touch 4
Re-use Value Rating:
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.
Ion Audio is getting a ton of press over the new iCades and my personal favorite their Guitar Apprentice, but Guitarlink Air looks pretty cool too. Announced at CES 2012, the system connects a guitar to Mac, PC, iPad or iPhone wirelessly. Guitarlink Air’s uses what it calls “high performance, low-latency technology.” The transmitter, a lightweight clip-on to a guitar strap funnels a 2.4 GHz signal that is amplified by an amp or digital output source without the annoyance or constraints of a cables.
Rockers can also use Guitarlink Air and an iOS device to practice with headphones or in conjunction with apps like AmpliTube and Garageband. and a free amp is included. The package, scheduled for a Q2 release, comes with Guitar Rig LE software that, according to Ion’s press release “shapes guitar sound with emulations of classic amplifiers and effects pedals.” No word yet on price, but its yet another one from Ion Audio for the wish list.
Remember April Fool’s day 2010? ThinkGeek showcased a retro-fied iPad cabinet, complete with 70’s Mork-suspender’s striping as a gag. Well, the laugh was short-lived, as the product took hold and became a top seller. At CES 2012, as we reported, ION AUDIO, who make the real product, announced a new line-up of iOS gear including a line of streamlined iPad controllers with the same arcade style 8-point joystick and 8 buttons, and for the small iOS screens, a controller-case that most resembles the PSP.
But, as 148apps writer Jenifer Allen pointed out in her coverage of the Gametel Controller: There’s “no use [for add-on controllers] without good software support.”
Like many, I’ve been holding out for one very special arcade classic that screams joystick like no other: NAMCO BANDAI’s PAC-MAN for iPad. Actually I’m lying, I really want Ms PAC-MAN, which if the product shot from ION’s press release is any indication is coming soon, but I’ll more likely consider ponying up for just the little male yellow chomper. And now he and his ghostly nemeses are officially iCade compatible.
In the press release Fred Galpern, Brand Manager, at ION says. “It’s thrilling to add Pac-Man to the list of iCADE compatible games … adding this beloved classic is truly exciting.” Thrilling may be overstatement, but if this signals a general alliance with NAMCO BANDAI, and other old-school gamehouses, the exuberance on ION’s part, and mine, is well founded.
Just as the death of arcades hasn’t stopped Ion Audio from putting out cool, new iCade accessories, they aren’t letting the decline of games like Guitar Hero keep them from getting into the plastic instrument race. However, like their previous Piano Apprentice iPhone accessory, the upcoming Guitar Apprentice isn’t a game. Instead, it’s a musical teaching tool.
The device is a full-sized guitar shell that the iPad docks into. The onscreen frets light up to show players where they need to place their fingers and whether or not they are strumming the right chords. From there, players can learn and record songs with compatible apps like GarageBand and Ion Audio’s own upcoming Guitar Apprentice app.
The Guitar Apprentice accessory will soon hit retail for $99 in America before arriving in the rest of the world. If this works, imagine what other instruments Ion Audio could plug an iPad into. The second image shows that a drum accessory is in the works. What else could be coming? Saxophone Apprentice anyone?
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.