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[UPDATE] If Jim Dalrymple is right about the rumored Apple Game Controller, then something is wrong

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Earlier today, Jon Jordan from PocketGamer.com ran a story that got a lot of iOS users very excited. Mr Jordan said that he had talked to developers in attendance at the Game Developers Conference who have met with Apple in secretive, closed-door meetings. They supposedly centered on an official iOS gamepad that the company would be releasing sometime this year. The only response I could think of while reading this was that it’s about damn time.

However, it wasn’t long before the unofficial oracle of Apple, Jim Dalrymple of loopinsight.com rained on everyone’s parade. At 1:19 PM today, he posted one of his terse responses in regards to the rumors of an Apple gamepad. The one word assissin: “Nope.” Considering that he is well know to have reliable sources within Apple, and that he had an impeccable track record when it comes to rumors, that’s pretty much that. Sure, Mr Dalrymple could be wrong. I could also be struck by lightning while walking my dog tomorrow. The odds of both are slim.

This is one time when I really hope that the longshot beats the odds. That would be the game controller, not me getting struck by lightning. Just clarifying. Anyway, this is just such a no-brainer for Apple. I know that they’ve been obsessed with touch, to the exclusion of all else. It doesn’t matter that, thanks in very large part to them, touch won, beating out styli and mobile keyboards as primary methods of control. Instead of going back and using their position of power to put their spin on other forms of input and take advantage of what they can bring to the table as supplementary devices, Apple remains stubbornly locked to touch alone when it comes to mobile. In the meantime, Samsung swept in an made the precision stylus a big part of their brand message, proving that users want more than JUST touch.

It seems that the same philosophy may still carry over to game controllers. Not only has Apple not released one of their own, but they also haven’t made it easy for third party developers who are making alternatives, either. It would be one thing if there was no demand for such a beast, but we have example after example of the fact that there IS.

 

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First, we had the iCade, which went from an April Fool’s joke to a real product that gained a solid niche following, and then grew into a continuing line of products from ThinkGeek. Now, we have several other third-party iOS controllers, a controller coming directly from Samsung for their devices, and the interesting looking Project Shield from Nvidia, which has generated plenty of buzz among mobile gamers.

 

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Those are all fine and good, but the one that really gets me is the OUYA. It hit Kickstarter seven months ago, and instantly set the place on fire.

 

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For anyone who isn’t aware of the OUYA phenomenon,  it is a $99 game console running a forked version of Android that is free and open to develop for, has a really nice looking and fully featured controller, and will have a required free component for every game available in their curated store.

 

 

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The OUYA was backed by 63,416 people, and raised $8,596, 474. $130 of those dollars came from me, for a console and two controllers. Since then, agreements have been announced that will have the OUYA available at popular retail outlets, such as Amazon, Target, and Best Buy. It’s one thing to get some buzz and blog posts written up about a new product. It’s quite another to raise real cash, make a console from the ground up, ship it, and then strike deals with mainstream retailers. This is real life, in your face proof that if Apple isn’t making a hardware controller to help grow their reach in gaming, then they are making a BIG mistake.

I actually wrote a post about this not long after the OUYA hit Kickstarter last year. At the time, I was stating the case that Apple’s catalog of hardware, software, and service offerings had outgrown their current staffing levels, especially when it comes to engineering and programming. Whether that is true or not (and I personally still believe that it is, but that Apple is hiring and building a huge new HQ building, so maybe it will change), part of my argument centered on the early gaming foothold that Apple had established into the living room with the Apple TV, AirPlay, Screen Mirroring, and AirPlay Mirroring.

 

 

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Apple had established methods that developers could use to make their games playable in widescreen HD wirelessly, and with little setup on the user’s end. However, while it’s easy to mirror an iPhone or iPad’s screen to the Apple TV, it’s quite another to play a game while looking at the television, with no tactile feedback. Then there is the question of the lag between the device and the television, which is enough to ruin the experience in a fast-moving game such as Real Racing 2 (one of the first titles to make widescreen mirroring available). I’ve written about this issue, as well.

The bottom line is this- Apple had their foot in the living room door. They had the lead. If they had either released a controller and allowed downloads direct to the Apple TV, or found a way to optimize the wireless mirroring experience a year or two ago, they would OWN this. There might not be an OUYA today if they had thrown their full weight into the console gaming experience. But they didn’t. Unfortunately, they have probably squandered their opportunity. Apple can obviously still be a big player in this space by making the right moves from here on out, but they have lost the initiative. The chance to get all the way there first, and have the early mainstream success that they enjoyed with the iPhone and iPad is gone. They will have to fight this battle from behind, if they even choose to join it.

Even with Jim Dalrymple declaring a death sentence for an Apple game controller today, we can hope that this situation is still in flux at Apple. It will definitely be something to watch for at a possible new iPad announcement in the next month, or at WWDC. In my opinion, whether Apple gets it or not, there are a significant number of mobile users who want the option of a hardware controller for gaming, and are voting with their wallets to show it. It’s a necessary addition for gaming on iOS to go to the next level, where users will expect a level of precision in controls that touch just can’t offer for all types of games. If Apple really doesn’t understand this, then that is the biggest concern of all to me. Because if they don’t, then they have grown completely out of touch when it comes to gaming.

Well, I was excited for a little while today. I haven’t fired up AirPlay Mirroring in I don’t know how long, but put an Apple-designed wireless controller in my hands and that would change in a hurry. Asphault 7. Real Racing 3. FIFA 13. NBA2k13, Need for Speed: Most Wanted. I would definitely get my money’s worth. After Mr Dalrymple rained on the parade, I wasn’t disappointed for too long. I quickly remembered that the OUYA started shipping out to Kickstarter backers today. I backed within a couple of days, so I shouldn’t have to wait too long before I have the baddest retro gaming device known to man hooked up to my TV. As in a growing number of areas, if Apple isn’t offering it, someone else is. This time, I’m jumping in the other pool and not looking back. Well, unless Tim Cook walks out holding an aluminum Bluetooth controller that connects to all iOS devices at the next Apple event.

So, what do you think about the possibility of an Apple gamepad or controller for iOS? Are you interested enough to buy one? If so, what would you be willing to pay? What do you think the chances are? How abut the OUYA? Any other backers out there? Feel free to let me know in the comments, or you can hit me up on Twitter @jhrogersii, or on Google+. I would love to hear from you.

 

Update: Mr Dalrymple was kind enough to chime in via Twitter, which was really cool. Unfortunately, his answer still stands. Despite the fact that he crushed my dreams of Apple gaming goodness, I certainly appreciate him taking the time.

 

 

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  • Rambir

    Have you guys heard of the pippin, read that and wonder whether Apple should make a games console, it was so tragic. I wish I could just shoot every last remaining one to put it out of its misery.

  • James Rogers

    I’ve heard of it. However, the Apple that produced it and other products with great promise that they ultimately couldn’t pull off (such as the Newton), no longer exists. That company was quickly killed off by Steve Jobs upon his return, and hasn’t been seen since. The way they operate now is very, very different.

    My frustration with Apple has been that they currently have all of the individual pieces in place to make their current devices into a functional casual gaming system, except for the controller. Add that hardware, and tie it all together into a cohesive whole, and Apple could really hurt Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo on the low end of the market. The Pipin was launched into a void with no support, where a current effort would already have a mature ecosystem to lean on.

    All that said, you are correct. Apple did fail pretty spectacularly at this once upon a time. As much as they push gaming on their mobile devices, maybe they are gunshy due to their past experience.