Newsflash: touchscreen controls are almost universally bad. They're so bad that companies like Sony, Archos, and NVIDIA have created entirely new devices just for the novelty of shoving console-style physical controls onto Android hardware. There's got to be a way to make make non-tactile control schemes suck less. This Kickstarter project... isn't it.
They're stickers. Stickers for your screen, shaped like controller buttons. How bad is this? Oh, let me count the ways.
The idea behind the Invisible Gamepad isn't all that terrible - place some thin, translucent, capacitive controls over a touchscreen, and it's at least better than nothing, right? Logitech had a pretty similar idea with its clip-on joypad, which itself is a shameless copy of the Fling controller. But the implementation here is laughably bad. For one thing, you've got a static, physical system meant to augment dynamic controls which will change with almost each and every game. (The designers have tried to accommodate this with different shapes and sizes for D-pads and buttons, but they're aiming for an infinite target.) For another, the very nature of smartphones and tablets makes this idea awkward - what happens when you need to answer a quick email? All this for a couple of millimeters of raised plastic that will be barely better than tapping on glass.
Right: Photoshop is hard.
The Invisible Gamepad is intended to be left on the device at all times, which seems like recipe for frustration, because at least parts of it will be covering the virtual keyboard every time it appears. You could peel them on and off, but even with "63 Gamepad elements in each package," the dedicated gamers that this project is hoping to woo would fly through them in no time. Of course, to swap stickers on and off, you'll need to carry a sheet of translucent plastic with you at all times (until they run out), plus a microfiber cloth, or oil and dust will take them right off in your pocket.
There's also a more practical solution.
Can I play games with different control schemes?
The Invisible Gamepad is easy to stick on and peel off: you can simply swap out controls between games. Or you could apply different controls to each edge of the screen and rotate your device as necessary – it’s your choice!
The Invisible Gamepad works with all kinds of games, like shooters and platformers! And RPGs! Why do you need tactile controls for a genre dominated by static, turn-based combat? For the same reason you need a D-pad to play Angry Birds!
The Invisible Gamepad is the brainchild of Olivier Buigues and Morgan Mainou. Olivier would like you to know that he has a BA in economics, and studied at ESCP Europe, the world's first business school. He rocks some kind of tribal necklace underneath an unbuttoned business shirt. Morgan is an "adventurer and supply chain expert" who's very proud of opening a windsurfing school at the age of 18. He's got an MBA and a tie. It's wrong to pass judgment on people, so we'll let you do it for us: here are some overly-produced press shots of the Invisible Gamepad team from the project's homepage. You can also download their resumes, or even Skype them! You know, if you want.
Backers can pay one dollar for the privilege of supporting the Invisible Gamepad's $7,000 goal, $11 for a standard set of buttons and a cloth, or $16 to get them two months before everyone else. $6 and $12 "Early Bird Specials" are limited to 300 backers. I'm giving these guys a lot of grief, but I'll grant them one point in their favor: the monetary goal is reasonable, unlike quite a lot of Kickstarter projects out there.
You've got until August 25th to donate to the Invisible Gamepad.
Update: Commenter raindog469 reports that he bought an Invisible Gamepad sticker set from Amazon in September of last year, long before the promotion for this Kickstarter project started. It's definitely the same product from the same people, which seems to have disappeared from Amazon. He guesses that the Kickstarter campaign is a slightly shady way of clearing out unsold stock, which seems to be as good a theory as any.
Update 2: I called Olivier Buigues via his press contact phone number to ask about the Amazon incongruities. He replied that his company had produced several initial batches of the Invisible Gamepad product, and sold them in small lots on Amazon to get initial customer feedback, which he said was overwhelmingly positive. Once the initial batches were completed and the final design was set, the leadup to the Kickstarter campaign began.
According to Mr. Buigues, the Kickstarter campaign is intended to secure orders for several thousand units to begin large-scale production with the company's manufacturing partners, as well as recoup some of the initial marketing costs for the product.