Could Apple Be Developing Its Own Game Controller?

Apple TV with Game Controller Credit: ExhaustedResearch / Shutterstock
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There have been sporadic rumours for years that Apple was poised to enter the gaming market with its own console, and while much of this has been wishful thinking on the part of gamers, there’s no doubt that Apple has begun to take gaming more seriously with last year’s debut of Apple Arcade and the addition of support for mainstream gaming controllers to iOS devices and the Apple TV.

To be clear, accessory makers have been hacking together third-party game controllers for iPhones and iPads for almost a decade, but until about four years ago there was no standard for these controllers, which meant support was generally limited to only a handful of titles. When Apple debuted the fourth-generation Apple TV back in 2015, it began to offer hooks for Apple-licensed game controllers, which provided more universal app compatibility, but these still had to be specifically made for the Apple TV, iPhone, or iPad, right down to using a Lightning port to recharge.

It wasn’t until last year, as Apple Arcade dawned, that iOS 13 and tvOS 13 blew support wide open to allow gamers to use their existing PS4 and Xbox controllers with Apple devices, and now it looks like Apple could be ready to get into the game itself with its first-ever Apple-branded gaming accessory.

To be fair, it’s a somewhat vague prediction right now, coming from Twitter user @L0vetodream, who sent out a spate of alleged Apple product leaks over the weekend.

While we’d normally take this one with a healthy dose of salt, it has a higher air of reliability due to the fact that @L0vetodream accurately predicted both the March launch of the new iPad Pro and the mid-April release of the iPhone SE before anybody else, right down to the specific week that each would launch, along with details on things like storage capacities.

An Apple Game Controller

In some ways, creating its own game controller would be a pretty big step for Apple, which has never previously shown any interest in gaming hardware.

However, Apple is also a company that obsesses over user experience and design, and already has a well-established history of building other human interface devices such as keyboards and mice, plus its trackpads are some of the best in existence. In many ways a game controller isn’t a huge departure from that, and companies like Microsoft have gone down a very similar road — long before the Xbox came along, the only hardware accessories that Microsoft made were keyboards and mice, later followed by a variety of game controllers.

There’s also the fact that Apple is now taking mobile gaming very seriously, having already funded over 100 games for its Arcade service, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of indie developers to produce exclusive or semi-exclusive titles for the service — many of which require game controllers to play. Apple was also actively involved with MFi partners like SteelSeries to release the Nimbus controller for the Apple TV back in 2015, so it would be a mistake to assume that the company has no expertise at all in this area.

It’s still very unclear, however, what form an Apple game controller would take, although presumably the company would gear it to working more seamlessly with its own devices, perhaps simplifying pairing procedures and offering some tvOS specific controls for Apple TV users. It could also offer features like wireless charging and possibly even Siri integration.

There have also been rumours of a sixth-generation Apple TV arriving later this year, and while the timeline for Apple’s rumoured game controller is still uncertain — it may not arrive until 2021 — it would make some sense for Apple to debut it at the same time as the next set-top box, which will undoubtedly be more geared toward gaming thanks to the likely inclusion of a powerful A13 or A14 chip. In fact, it’s kind of hard to see how a new Apple TV would be particularly attractive for any reason other than gaming, since the current Apple TV 4K performs more than adequately when used simply as a video streaming device.

Whether an Apple game controller is really necessary is another question, of course, especially now that gamers can use PlayStation DualShock 4 and Xbox One controllers, but gamers that don’t already have a PS4 or Xbox in their arsenal are going to have to purchase a standalone game controller anyway, so it’s easy to see in this case how an Apple first-party controller might be more attractive for casual gamers who are content to consume Apple Arcade titles on the Apple TV.

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