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iPhone OS 3.0: How It Could Revolutionize iPhone Games

In a previous DailyGame column I wrote about my fantasy World of Warcraft-related iPhone apps. Since then none of them have come to fruition (not that I expected them to); it would have been really cool, but let’s face it, people who are that interested in WoW who happen to own an iPhone are too busy playing the actual game or trolling the iPhone App Store for that “one good app” among the thousands out there. But with iPhone OS 3.0 due out this summer, there may be something else on the horizon that could revolutionize iPhone gaming and make the platform capable of playing more traditional games that require buttons and analog sticks.

I am talking about the new hardware accessories feature of iPhone OS 3.0. Developers will be able to connect the iPhone to external hardware devices through the serial connector or wirelessly over Bluetooth. Exactly how this will be achieved is up to product designers and engineers, but consider that if third party apps can accept external hardware input, the iPhone could be the next great platform for real First-Person Shooters, RPGs, Side Scrollers, Platformers, Action, Sports and other core genres that currently only work well on PCs, consoles and traditional gaming handhelds — simply due to their superior controls.

So how could the upcoming accessories capability of iPhone OS 3.0 revolutionize iPhone gaming? Consider the many tight fitting iPhone cases already on the market, such as this rubbery blue one pictured below.

iPhone InCase

Imagine the end that covers the connector dock has modified version of the compatible end of the iPhone cable actually integrated into the case. Then imagine that on one side of the case, the rubber/plastic material extends over two corners of the screen, else over the black non-screen area. From these case extensions imagine little analog thumb-sticks coming out of them such that you would hold the iPhone horizontally like a PSP. On the back where the iPhone rests on the index fingers there could be shoulder buttons. To keep the iPhone from slipping out of your hands, there could be additional tweaks in the back of this hypothetical case so that the middle fingers curled underneath would have something to grip. Finally, this case would still have to allow for headphone use, which I’m sure could be worked out.

Assuming this case I’m designing actually worked and felt good in your hands, it could transform mobile gaming as we know it. Recently I purchased the Wolfenstien 3D app, a port of id’s original classic on the PC that predated Doom. While it is somewhat fun to play, it’s still much harder to control that console shooters and I couldn’t get into it enough to enjoy it. I played it for an hour in total and haven’t played it since.

But with my super awesome and purely hypothetical analog stick and shoulder button capable case I’m theorizing, I would be able to play wolf3D all day and love it. Also consider how easy it would be to control side-scrollers or 3D platforming games. I loved Braid on Xbox Live. Think how well it would do on the iPhone with usable controls.

Now think about how many console or traditional handheld system games could be playable in an iPhone if someone makes this crazy stupid idea of mine actually work? Well, I’m obviously not the only one thinking of this, and perhaps it’s not stupid at all.

The guys at have an interesting device in the works that is a hardened plastic/electronic case the iPhone snaps into. The iControlPad device has a D-pad, shoulder buttons and face buttons for the right thumb. The website shows a demo of an iPhone running Quake in an emulator using the device, making it much easier to control than even Wolfenstein 3D.

While this prototype does not provide the same level of sophistication as controls available on an Xbox 360 or PS3 shooter, let alone on a PC, it gives me hope that innovative accessories are coming.

At E3 2009, I hardly saw anything related to iPhone gaming, much less anyone talking about accessories ideas for when iPhone OS 3.0 is released. On the Sony booth tour I got to play a new SOCOM game demo on the PSP Go due this fall. Because the Go also has only a left one analog control for the left thumb (just like the PSP), the new SOCOM controlled basically the same. It was much easier to control than current shooter games on an iPhone, and existing PSP SOCOM fans will feel right at home with it. But lacking that right analog stick makes the control scheme a little too inaccessible for many console gamers.

Another way to think about this fantasy iPhone accessory is to imagine a PSP with dual analog sticks that is ergonomically functionally like an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller. For the many of us who are too unskilled to master touch-screen FPS controls, that’s essentially the holy grail of portable shooter gaming.

So if iPhone OS 3.0 delivers and the accessories/apps follow, the iPhone will only become more attractive a platform for gaming and we may see the dawn of higher quality, deeper, longer length and more expensive iPhone games that actual generate meaningful sales. This in turn might make the iPhone a realistic publishing platform for major game releases. By E3 2010, we may hear iPhone developers march down Figeroa chanting: “Out of our parents’ basements and into sustained profitability!”

— Jeremy Miller

Jeremy Miller is founder of Strategic Game Consulting, a specialized company focused on helping video game industry clients create higher-selling products though industry leading data analysis, game accessibility consulting and product-team alignment facilitation.

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