Opinion: Why an official gamepad makes perfect sense for Apple

Time to topple Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo

Opinion: Why an official gamepad makes perfect sense for Apple
When Jim Dalrymple said "nope" to the rumour that Apple is secretly working on a dedicated gaming joypad for iOS devices, many took that as a sure sign that it's not happening.

But given the clandestine nature of Apple's reported meetings at GDC, I wouldn't have been so quick to put the kibosh on the accuracy of the report.

It's evident that the Cupertino giant is - at the very least - gauging industry reaction to such an idea, and the resounding "yep" that it got in response to Jon Jordan's exclusive story will tell Apple everything it needs to know about the massive pent-up demand out there.

For as compelling as touch and tilt gaming may be for titles designed for that input method, there's no getting away from the unarguable fact that some games are vastly more enjoyable with physical controls.

Even the most myopic Apple executive must realise this. If they don't, there are no shortage of games that have tried and failed to approximate classic twin stick gamepad controls on a touch screen.

Game rage

You only have to pick up any first or third-person shooter, or any other game where simultaneous 3D movement and precision aiming is at the core of the gameplay.

On touch screen devices, they're routinely awful to play. Without exception, they make me want to toss my very expensive piece of hardware out of the nearest window in exasperation.

Not releasing a dedicated gaming controller makes about as much sense as discouraging headphone use on the basis that the device's speaker does the job.

But much like listening to music through headphones can improve the experience, the same principle applies to using a dedicated game controller. It's not like you'll need (or even want) to use them all the time, but it's just great in specific circumstances.

What those circumstances are will be down to the user. Some might go to the hassle of carting around a controller with them all the time. Others might only use them for certain games, or for games that work really well when hooked up to a big screen at home.

Of course, various third party controllers already exist - notably ion's excellent iCade range of bluetooth controllers. Unfortunately, the traction of such devices has been utterly hobbled by Apple's bizarre rule that expressly forbids the mere mention of iCade support on the App Store.

An iPad equipped iCade

If Apple had no designs on making its own controller, what possible reason would it have for cockblocking them unless it had plans of its own?

Realise the potential

A dedicated controller doesn't have to be a mandatory requirement, merely an optional extra for those who prefer it.

Apple should have the confidence to realise that releasing one doesn't mean the touch screen dream has 'failed'. It's just that without a controller, the full potential of the iOS as a gaming platform will never be fully realised.

On that note, what is the full potential of iOS as a gaming ecosystem? From where we stand in the spring of 2013, the device penetration and installed base is absolutely vast.

People no longer talk in terms of tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions. iOS devices can reach previously unimaginable audiences of over a billion, and are becoming so powerful that they're fully capable of rivalling and - very soon - usurping the standards of current gen HD consoles.

You only have to cast a cursory glance at standard bearers like Real Racing 3 to know that the latest models are already capable of.

By the time the next iPhone and iPad models hit later this year, people will - more or less - be carrying around fantastically specced hardware that's more than capable of handling blockbuster console games, but without any blockbuster games to call its won.

Real Racing 3

EA, Activision, Take Two and Ubisoft will continue tailoring their biggest brands for iOS regardless, but those more casually minded titles will likely remain like handheld spin-offs by comparison to the 'real deal', big ticket blockbusters that command full price.

It can't have escaped the attention of the bigger publishers, either, that it won't be long before iOS devices are fully capable of running their entire back catalogue without breaking sweat.

The main stumbling block? Controls, again. What they would give to be able to tap into that vast installed base without having to entirely repurpose their games every time.

TV times

The issue of Apple TV is, of course, another reason why Apple will be considering a dedicated gamepad.

If and when it does eventually get around to releasing a new Apple TV box (and/or fully integrated smart TV), it's highly likely games will feature as part of the content offering. Why? Because money talks and Apple makes vast fortunes out of selling games.

It knows it can command an even bigger slice of the pie, and it knows the hardware can handle it.

If Apple TV does turn out the way most people expect, then releasing a dedicated controller will help kill two birds with one stone. Not only will it ensure that Apple TV games can rival traditional console games, but it also means that all iOS devices can also benefit.

The beauty of such a device is that it doesn't rely on anything in particular to succeed. The iPad is already huge, as is the iPhone, as is the iPod touch, and the last few iterations already handle TV out and/or Airplay sharing.

Assuming Apple can fix the lag issues of current models, the potential is there for iOS devices to effectively become the dominant game 'consoles' of the next generation.

With so many consumers already locked into Apple's content ecosystem, and already buying games in great numbers, it wouldn't take much for Apple to take a bite out of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo's lunch.

The games market is there for the taking if Apple wants it. It's that simple.

There's no such thing as 'not enough time' in Kristan's world. Despite the former Eurogamer editor claiming the world record for the most number of game reviews written before going insane, he manages to continue to squeeze in parallel obsessions with obscure bands, Norwich City FC, and moody episodic TV shows. He might even read a book if threatened by his girlfriend.