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Where are all the smartphone controllers.

An enquiry as to the forces holding smartphone controllers at bay.

As so many others, I grew up on Nintendo. The original Gameboy was gifted to me one fortuitous Christmas and basically got me hooked on video games. Then the neighbors got a Super Nintendo Entertainment System and that sealed the deal. Henceforth gaming became a passion and my love for Nintendo grew ever stronger.

Since the early days new ways of gaming have been discovered and explored, lately gaming on the phone  has overtaken many more "traditional" consumption methods, among other factors due to availability and market penetration. Home entertainment system type consoles gradually loose traction for reasons like cost, ease of access, incremental progress or relatively predetermined deployment windows and higher costs for game titles.

Nintendo has entered the current console cycle midterm once again and defied conventions by introducing novel and versatile hardware, topped with exclusive titles featuring well established and beloved characters. Nintendo is also generally considered the entry level/universally accessible option for gamers due to the family friendly nature of the majority of their products. Besides the optional portability of the tablet like console that docks into an hdmi connected station an additional interesting feature are its controllers. Individually detachable from the sides of the tablet body they allow for local multiplayer sessions for some titles, activities reminiscent of Wii games due to built in sensors and they also slide into an included controller mold while the tablet sits in its dock.

In terms of processing power the device is behind the competition once again, quite expected, as Nintendo banks on other quantitative features and the popularity of their IP's. With similar products such as the Playstation Vita and Nintendo's own DS products fighting a loosing battle against the sheer numbers of smartphones on the market, the Switch has placed itself uniquely to target a market segment the competition didn't even know existed.

The Switch was released in early 2017 and was able to sell a record breaking number of units within just a short time span. Simultaneously smartphones have gotten more and more sophisticated with hardware that often rivals or even betters modern laptops while the overall price of those devices has come down considerably, certain brands excluded from that statement, of course, but overall components have gotten more affordable, which lead to rapid development of many games that traditionally have been associated with PC or console gaming, with some titles even being ported straight to handhelds, like the admittedly dated yet recently updated Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath and more modern titles like PUBG or the mobile exclusive Shadowgun Legends.

All these games work on all hardware compatible smartphones as is and play very similarly, if not identical to their superiorly specced clunkier, less handheld counterparts.

With one exception: All the buttons for all the commands must be somehow represented on the display of the phone itself, since it's the only available input method. This leads to unwanted complications in terms of playability and ease of access for many titles, since porting something like Doom to the Switch with downgraded graphics is a manageable option due to the available input methods required for a swift and unmodified gameplay experience, apart from flatter graphics, of course. Again, some exceptions can be made in more adventurous titles that experiment with new ways of play, like titles utilizing the accelerometer and gyroscope in many phones to enable tilt steered racing games.

But the staggering majority of these titles suffers to some degree from the limited input methods natively available to those devices and while universally adaptable controllers from many smaller companies have become available and larger brands such as Xiaomi or Razer feature half controllers or virtual shoulder buttons, no real steps have been made to convert smartphones into "real" gaming devices for the millions of users interested in gaming on their phones.
 

 

 

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