RUMOR: Apple is Developing its Own Game Controller

What would an Apple game controller look like?


An anonymous Twitter user going by the handle @L0vetodream, who correctly predicted the launch of the iPhone SE 2020 (though incorrectly referred to it as the iPhone 9), is now predicting that Apple will release its own game controller later this year. Given that Apple is beginning to focus more on gaming after the launch of Apple Arcade and with the new speculation of a more gaming-focused Apple TV coming, this rumor doesn’t sound implausible.

This isn’t the first time Apple has designed a game controller. Back before Apple allowed users to pair Xbox and PlayStation controllers to their iOS devices, Apple created the MFi controller specification. This specification was essentially a blueprint of what Apple thought a controller should look like for iOS, and Apple allowed controller that met this spec to work with iOS for gaming. Apple even heavily marketed their favorite MFi controller alongside the Apple TV for a short time.

The Steelseries Nimbus was a glimpse into what Apple in 2015 thought iOS gaming was capable of. Which turned out to be…not that much. The controller was indeed the best of the MFi controllers when it came to build quality, but anyone used to traditional gamepads would have noticed the shortcomings just by looking at it. The problem was with Apple’s spec.

Instead of start and select buttons, it had one large menu button. This meant that games being ported from consoles needed to be redesigned to work with the unusual setup, and streaming games using Steam Link required a finicky button combination to substitute for the missing input. But that’s just what was visible on the surface. After some playtime, you’d likely notice that the joysticks didn’t click in. Thus adding two more buttons to design around and two more button combos for streaming games.

If Apple is making a new controller it could serve as an opportunity to remedy the mistakes of their MFi spec. Adding back the buttons gamers expect could be Apple’s chance to prove they know what they’re doing with gaming and make porting games to iOS easier for developers. But didn’t allowing Xbox and Playstation controllers already do all of this? Why does Apple feel the need to make their own controller if they already support the best controllers around?

My guess: the Siri remote. Tolerate it or hate it, the Siri remote that comes bundled with Apple TV has features that Xbox and Playstation controllers don’t. The obvious one is Siri. If Apple added a Siri button to their gamepad it would eliminate one of the biggest reasons gamers keep the Siri remote handy. Then there is the touchpad. The Apple TV interface was designed around long lists that are easy to swipe through using the touchpad. Using a controller feels either too slow or too fast when going through these lists and it’s obviously not the experience Apple intended. If Apple incorporated a touchpad into its controller, it would create one unified experience for users of controllers and users of the Siri remote.

My guesses are oriented around the Apple TV, but this could also have implications for other devices. If the trackpad is big enough it might work with the iPad or even the Mac. Imaging playing games on your iPad, getting a text, and answering it without having to take your hands off the controller. Whatever Apple has in store we apparently won’t have to wait long to find out.

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