Update July 9, 2019: It seems Microsoft has now patented designs (via WindowsLatest) very similar to these. Perhaps this is one research project that may see the light of day as a real product. We'll have to wait and see!
With Microsoft looking to bring "console quality" streaming to phones and tablets with Project xCloud, how will the company achieve that when touch controls are still pretty bad? It seems the company is looking to bring physical controllers to mobile devices to offset this problem, according to these Microsoft Research papers.
The research paper documents some of the popular solutions to gaming via a touch screen, while hailing the Nintendo Switch and other portable game consoles for circumventing touch-based control limitations with full joysticks and buttons.
As smartphones and tablets have become pervasive, so has mobile gaming. Not surprisingly, popular games for these platforms are focused on touchscreen-based interaction. However, many types of game are less well-suited to mobile devices. Despite systems like AdaptControl which can adapt to the 'drift' typically occurring when using virtual on-screen controls, touchbased emulations of traditional gaming controls like Dpads, buttons & joysticks are often unsatisfactory.
Mobile gaming devices like the Sony PlayStation Portable and Nintendo's DS and Switch are dedicated mobile gaming platforms which overcome these limitations via physical controls. The success of the Switch is testament to the value of mobile gaming with physical controls. A number of cheaper products allow a smartphone to be clipped into or onto a modified handheld gaming controller; these include the ION iCade mobile, the GameCase, the GameVice and products from Moga. However, the fixed form of these accessories means they are bulky and inflexible.
Microsoft built the prototypes out of foam and then had them 3D printed, based on conceptual renders. The work was carried out quite a while ago, back in 2014, but it seems Microsoft Research has resurfaced their efforts recently, noting the recent success of the Nintendo Switch.
While this research may be far away from turning into an actual product, it's pretty imperative that Microsoft takes a serious role in exploring how it can improve the way Xbox games will handle on a mobile device to help take Project xCloud mainstream. Touch-based inputs have always felt like a half-way solution, and will feel even more like one when they come up against games designed from the ground-up for responsive, tactile inputs.
Would you like to see an Xbox controller like this hit store shelves for your phone or Surface Go? Let us know in the comments.
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