04
Dec
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Hey, have you heard? Gamepads for smartphones and tablets are a thing. A thing that is quickly becoming the Android equivalent of the many ridiculous iPhone plug-in accessories you'll find all across the web.

So, we're covering another one. It's called PhoneJoy Play. It does this:

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You can fit a phone up to the size of a One X in the PhoneJoy Play horizontally, presumably. It connects (hold your applause, please) via Bluetooth, it requires games to implement compatibility (likely through an SDK to get full, native functionality), and you can fold it up into a more compact shape for play on televisions or tablets. The best part? It costs $50. Man, I can already see people lining up to drop fifty bucks on a game controller with absolutely no assurance it will ever achieve anything resembling popularity!

To be fair, the Play does have the advantage of its creators having made and sold another controller previously, which means there are games out there already that it works with. Still, the compatibility issue, for me, isn't exactly assuaged by a head start in a market where no one has really succeeded in a big way.

I'm sorry that PhoneJoy's project is becoming the target of my little anti-gamepad crusade, but I look at products like this and see little more than another case of startup fever. Someone at some point had the decent thought that "Hey, smartphones and tablets could use physical game controllers, like a mini-console!" and now every guy that wants to be the next Steve Jobs has suddenly "figured it out" and come up with their amazing take on this already ridiculously tired idea.

I am not saying that a smartphone gamepad is inherently a flawed concept. But not a single one I've seen has actually done anything to address the one innovation roadblock to wide adoption - compatibility. And that's because solving this conundrum requires one of two things: a really awesome, innovative idea that makes the controller "just work," or a ton of money to bribe developers into playing ball with free hardware development kits. Both of those things are hard / expensive. And it seems eminently unlikely either of them will be happening with the PhoneJoy Play.

Hell, the Sony Sixaxis probably has more Android support than any 3rd-party controller on the market, and that's solely because millions of people already have the hardware. And even then, compatibility still isn't anywhere near complete. I find it tough to believe that a Kickstarter project reimagining an idea we've seen a dozen (or more) companies already try is suddenly going to be that breakout product no one saw coming.

So please, entrepreneurs, I implore you: stop with the Android gamepads unless you think you've actually solved the compatibility riddle. Until then, I direct you to this rather fitting image from PhoneJoy's Kickstarter page.

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Kickstarter

David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

    idk man, i love the gamepad idea. but i agree, compatibility is a big issue. the ps3/sixaxis combo seems to have it right. a lot of games have gamepad support built in, but for the others you can setup a touch profile.

    in any case, this one is pretty cool, even if it looks kind of bad. i'm not sure if anyone else has mentioned it, but there was a rumor (or was it a leak?) of an upcoming ps3 controller that split in the middle which seems like it would be great to mount on the sides of your phone or tablet.

  • Christian Collet
    • youareme7

      i bought into that one even though it's pricy because it looks like it's going to do a fair bit more than just be a gamepad. Those guys seem to be pretty good at what they do too.

    • rsanchez1

      Well, that one is already funded.

      • Christian Collet

        well yes, but that isn't my point. I wanted to point out, that it's a controller that allegedly will be compatible with "all" games on Android.

  • Jinming Zhang

    Really love for sony to release a xperia play 2, the first xperia play solved the gamepad problem, but the phone was just way too slow to keep up with the latest games

    • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

      I was just thinking this ^ I seriously considered getting an Xperia Play but finally decided against it because it seemed sub-par hardware-wise and was stuck with 3G.

    • rsanchez1

      Exactly this. This is also why I like the PhoneJoy more than competing offerings. It is more like the xperia because the controller and the phone fit together so you hold only one instead of holding the controller and the phone separately.

      If Sony would get their act together and ship an xperia play 2, they could do alot to advance mobile gaming. I think Sony is just scared that an xperia play 2 would outsell the Vita by a mile.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1745689461 Hal Motley

        Ultimately Sony don't want any of their Android phones to outsell the Vita. The Vita itself is sold at a loss and the only way for Sony to recoup their losses is via software sales.

        Having said that Android on a Vita would be way more awesome for me! I know Sony despise OtherOS these days, but I would happily spend ounces of money on the Vita, games for it and of course Android stuff. If Android was supported.

  • youareme7

    compatibility with controllers is a chicken and egg problem. The way I see it, the more controllers there are available, the more customers will ask game devs to include software support for controllers. Since controller support is native to the later android versions, it shouldn't be an issue with needing specific hardware compatibility; just compatibility with the built in android controller support. There are quite a few big name games that already support controllers through android and they aren't too bad, shadowgun for instance is very good.

  • Michael Sheils

    The compatibility issue can only really be addressed by Google defining a standard for controllers, something I don't think they will likely do until Android/Chrome/GoogleTV are all merged and playing well together.

    • Chris

      Which will likely be after a victor begins to emerge. Google will then step in and either completely tank that victor, or set themselves up as a direct competitor.

    • digi_owl

      The major issue is the amount of 2.x devices out there. 4.x carries support for HID gamepads, allowing any bluetooth controller to "just work" of the game developer bothers to implement it.

  • Julius Besser

    Even the sixaxis combo only creates compatibility by either using apps that allow direction arrow keys to control characters or by using touch emulation. The PhoneJoy actually works the same way as a ps3/sixaxis, but uses a different app to create the touch emulation.

    The compatability problem isn't going to be addressed by a gamepad manufacturer. It needs to be addressed at the OS level by creating a touchpad profile that everyone can use or by creating apps, like BT Joystick or SixAxis, or something else. Even throwing money at devs, like PowerA tried to do, doesn't work because that only nets you a handful of games with all other sorts of issues.

    • http://twitter.com/arghness Alex

      I don't think that's true. Beach Buggy Blitz, Dead Trigger and others seem to offer native analogue support with a Sixaxis controller.

      • Julius Besser

        I have not used Sixaxis, but Dead Trigger offers native analogue support for using other bluetooth controlpad solutions also.

  • QwietStorm

    Jeez just get a gaming system

    • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

      I have/had a DS but ended up not using it as much since it's one more thing you have to carry with you. Pocket space is at a premium already, so I usually just have room to take my phone, wallet, and keys with me.

  • Sqube

    I really feel that the only group who could write an API that matters is Google. Anybody else just isn't going to get sufficient traction.

    • http://kennydude.me/ Joe Simpson
      • Sqube

        In that case... I don't know what's going on. It always seems to be more about enforcement when it comes to Google. They can't really enforce stuff because they're so reliant on others.

        • http://kennydude.me/ Joe Simpson

          Yeah, shame tbh

        • digi_owl

          Notice that this was introduced with 3.x. So any device still running 2.x or earlier can't make use of it. And even then the lowest common denominator will still be the touch screen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cole.mickens Cole Mickens

    This is easy to solve anyway (for someone interested in solving the problem rather than creating a tiny proprietary market with the absurd idea that they're going to get rich without market externalities).

    Step one: Get game designers to just add support for desktop keyboard controls (emulators were already doing this back in the Droid1 days...)

    Step two: Emulate a Keyboard HID device over the USB host in most Android phones.

    Step three: There is no step 3.

    If you do it right, you won't need external power, you won't need a driver, you won't need an SDK and if you want you can avoid the Bluetooth connection.

    • http://profiles.google.com/marcusleejh Marcus Lee

      You forgot step four: PROFIT!!!!!

    • http://mystady.com/ MY STADY — mystady.com

      Unnecessary. I use USB controllers—including PSX-to-USB adaptors—just fine, thanks. I'd rather not be tethered. Unfortunately there isn't an SOP for bluetooth gamepads. But more gamepads entering the fray is good because it shows google that this is something people WANT. And hopefully they'll step in soon enough.

      By the way, your "solution" is too convoluted. All you need is a USB OTG to USB 2.0 Adapter. It's too easy.

  • Mr. Mark

    The hate is strong with this one. I think you're the only person that this big of a passion against mobile gamepads. The more the better for many glaringly-obvious reasons. Perhaps you would be happier in an Apple environment where hatred towards having options is better suited?

    • rsanchez1

      "What, you don't like Thunderbolt? TOO F*CKING BAD"

  • nsnsmj

    That looks terrible.

  • FrillArtist

    One of the rare times I agree with David Ruddock. That things is hideous and at $50, it won't exactly sell like hot cakes.

  • Southrncomfortjm

    I was really excited about mobile gaming when I got my GNEX (my first smartphone) and then Nexus 7 a few weeks later. Aside from completing Angry Birds and playing some Cut the Rope, I find myself more attracted to consuming content - stories on Pulse or just web-browsing - than playing most any game. The only exception may be the upcoming Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition and that totally depends on implementation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michaelgonzalez2012 Michael Gonzalez

    Just buy an iMpulse controller, those are easier to carry around. They are the size of your keychain and have all the buttons that an SNES gamepad does.

    http://www.impulsecontroller.com/

    • rsanchez1

      I think the PhoneJoy is actually more convenient. Sure, iMpulse is easier to carry around because it's small, but the PhoneJoy can hold your phone in place. It's more convenient than trying to balance your iMpulse and your phone in your hands.

      • http://www.facebook.com/michaelgonzalez2012 Michael Gonzalez

        There are phone covers which have a kickstand to horizontally lean on.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnpSJvm335Y

        • rsanchez1

          Yeah, that helps if you have a desk or other flat surface, but what about when you're on the bus, or waiting somewhere with chairs and no tables (at the doctor's, DMV, etc)?

          • http://www.facebook.com/michaelgonzalez2012 Michael Gonzalez

            I use the stand and it balances on my leg just fine. It's sturdy enough not to fall over unless you are moving around constantly. You have to find the right spot but I can tell you from experience that it works well.

  • PINJ

    Looks Cool And Functional. Just The Bluetooth Is Annoying As I Would Have Preferred A USB Option

  • ChainsawCharlie

    That looks scary.

  • Bariman43

    Not even a physical, 100% compatible gamepad could make me like half the games on mobile devices. A physical gamepad will only go so far with toilet gaming (i.e. games you play to pass the time on the john). I'll stick with real handhelds.

    • Al McDowall

      "A physical gamepad will only go so far with toilet gaming...

      ... I'll stick with real handhelds"

      Overshare?

  • http://www.facebook.com/michaelgonzalez2012 Michael Gonzalez

    With this app you can create a profile for any controller and map the functions you need for it, or a specific game. Thus solving alot of the compatibility issues with joysticks today.

    BT Joystick Center 6
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.poke64738.usbjoy&hl=en

  • atg284

    I like the six axis on my tablet!

  • missinginput

    So far short of google fixing this as part of android on the whole the only answer I see in the near future is http://www.androidpolice.com/2012/10/15/archos-gamepad-gets-some-hands-on-time-shows-off-how-button-mapping-works/

  • Iggy

    I for one can hardly wait for the iMpulse controller pad that was recently touted here. If you haven't ordered one yet, check it out.

    http://www.impulsecontroller.com/

  • brutalpanther

    If nyko would get thier head out thier @ss and finish the playground app beta so touchmapping is possible,I think they could corner the market.The playpad pro is a good controller,cant say that for the travel size playpad,analog sticks just dont work well, Too short and way to much deadspace.Makes it hard to target.So go with the pro model until little one is fixed.$40 aint bad,icade wants $80.Of course if beta never gets touchmap like it shows on youtube then you may as well buy a otg adapter and a used xbox or ps3 controller.

  • rsanchez1

    I can't say I agree. The PhoneJoy is like what I always imagined having when I connect my Wiimote to my phone. I often think, "How convenient would it be if I had something to hook my Wiimote up to my phone, so I don't need to carry both separately?" Well, the PhoneJoy does that for me. You have the controller and the controller holds the phone in place, making it convenient.

    Plus, the PhoneJoy has more buttons than the Wiimote.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexander.moroz.180 Alexander Moroz

    Hi Guys

    As a PhoneJoy PLAY project member I would like to say thank you to everybody who is supporting our project!

    We are aware of the current controller support issues for mobile gaming, as mentioned in this article. It is true that many mobile game developers still don't see it as necessary to include gamepad support, but this can't go on forever like this. Before the developers will start to implement support, they need to be sure that there is hardware out there and it should be easy to do. This is exactly why we think that other manufacturers and ourselves should keep make everything needed to convince the developers of our righteous cause :)

    Of course as a start up we don't have "a ton of money" to bribe the developers, but we are working now on a development kit, which will make it pretty easy to implement gamepad support.
    If we are funded well on Kickstarter, there will be more money to develop our own touch screen emulation app. Our aim here is touch screen emulation made easy to use and also available for non root users.

    So please back us and give us the chance to do it!

    • QuanahHarjo

      Any chance of doing a version or adapter to use on 7" tablets? There are a whole lot of Nexus 7 and Galaxy Tabs floating around...

      • http://www.facebook.com/martin.kessler Martin Kessler

        It's definitely on our agenda. But first we need to get the PLAY out, otherwise we will lack the funding to keep operating.

  • QuanahHarjo

    People are nuts. This is an awesome idea...finally a solution that actually puts the controls on the freaking sides as the good lord intended. Google has put the SDK for gamepads in the OS for a while now...if the devs arent using it, they need to get their asses on board. I'm just sad that this pad won't fit across my 7" tablet. If the Shadowgun games support this, it would be a great way to get the ball rolling for the rest of the Android gaming scene.

  • http://twitter.com/Kihto An Tran

    Apparently the PhoneJoy will have an app that allows for touchscreen emulation for games not directly supported by the controller yet, so there's that at least. Personally I would've like this to be smaller, but it does remind me a little of a gaming phone I saw in the newest .hack movie. Hopefully another phone manufacturer will make a gamepad phone, since it seems like Sony's afraid of creating yet another failure.

  • rosa

    good work
    have spam in my world because its really gone sort by size
    and iwant by name only

  • qwerty

    Wrong, it attaches to the phone. The improvement was allowing the controller to attach and connect to the phone portrait and landscape. Say you wanted to play a game on the Nintendo DS emulator. If you have a Samsung Galaxy Note II it's quad core chip and it's S - pen would do but on thing is missing the controls. Why would a person want to play a DS tapping the controls on the bottom screen when you can attach that product on the bottom and play it is as a complete DS? Stylus, speed, game buttons, screen size, and resolution.

  • n8thaagr8

    I dont know what this article is talking about. I use gamepads via the bluezime app and it enables my controller (currently the sixaxis but eventually the phonejoy play) to work seamlessly with all of my emulators (ps1, ds, gba, n64) on my galacy note 2. The only thing that the sixaxis tech doesnt have is the ability to recognize 2 controllers (so I can play 2 player games like mario kart 64) the phonejoy controller does have the ability when combined with its app as well as third party apps (like bluesime) to recognize two separate controllers. This is why im buying one and dying for one to come out... I have many friends to school in mariokart andlugging around my laptop has become too much work...