The Ace Power may have been greatly eclipsed in quality by newer, more solid controllers, but I’ll always have a special affinity for this one. I don’t particularly like clipping my iPhone into a giant bluetooth controller – having a controller-case that transforms my device into something akin to a PSP is superior, in my opinion.
If you are still rocking an iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, or iPod Touch, for the love of god, buy one of these controllers immediately! It isn’t the best controller out there, but it’s sure as heck worth $13! And if you’re a developer, there has never been a better chance to get a cheap, full-featured controller to test your game with. Heck, grab one of the PowerShells for $9.99 while you’re at it, test Standard and Extended controller support at the same time.
WWDC (and AltConf, which I'll be going to) is coming next week. You know what that means: prediction time!
The Apple TV
it's time to get our hopes up for an Apple TV game console! Also some other stuff. But mainly the Apple TV thing. And I might sound like a broken record saying this, but I think this might finally be the time.
Right off the bat, we have the recent price drop on the Apple TV. A $69 price tag is very low for an Apple product - it feels like the entry price for a product line. An upgraded model would fit at $149. Apple seems to agree. Their website advertises the Apple TV line as "starting at $69" — an odd thing to say considering that the product line also finishes at $69.
We also have the countless remarks about how terrible TV in its current form is. Supposedly off-hand quotes from Apple executives don't exactly confirm that an update is coming, but it's hard to argue that they aren't suggestive. And there is a tangible amount of progress that transcends rumor. The recent addition of channels from new networks - HBO especially - shows that communication channels between Apple and the TV networks are open.
But what might an upgraded Apple TV look like? Will it run native games, or will it merely be an upgraded AirPlay client? That's the big question. The answer to that will determine what hardware goes into the box.
aTV 1: The Upgraded AirPlay Box
First, the less-interesting "upgraded AirPlay box" option. Either due to philosophical reasons, a desire not to stretch themselves too thin with the Watch app SDK coming soon, or content deals that aren't ready yet, Apple might want to release an interim Apple TV with a minor spec bump and no App Store.
In this case, I'd expect to see the existing product upgraded with an A7, A8, or new A9 processor, minimal integrated storage, and 802.11ac WiFi. Basically, exactly what we have today, but with better specs.
There have been rumblings of a new remote, possibly with a bluetooth connection or a touchscreen or trackpad. This type of thing wouldn't require a significant Apple TV hardware upgrade, but might still be enough of a headline feature to push people to the higher-end model.
This type of update would still be significant for gaming. Upgrading the WiFi and graphics hardware and drivers could enable an Apple TV capable of streaming h265 HEVC video at faster bitrates and higher quality than even the Lightning-to-HDMI cable is capable of. It wouldn't quite be the same as native code, but it could be significantly better than the current AirPlay implementation1.
A minor spec bump to the Apple TV would always be welcome, but the thing us gamers are hoping for is more significant than that. We're hoping of a high-end game console style box, outfitted with the latest and greatest hardware, fully compatible with MFi controllers, and featuring a full SDK and App Store. I'm not sure whether or not this is the time for such a box, but I think there's a better chance now than ever before.
If it happens, expect to see less conservative parts than the current Apple TV has. I'd be shocked if it shipped with anything less than an A8X chip - battery life isn't a concern, and the iPad Air 2 already proves this chip is a powerhouse at greater-than-HD resolutions.
On the wireless front, I'd still expect this box to include 802.11ac and upgraded AirPlay. Even with a native App Store. Apple wouldn't want to ignore AirPlay, which is still a critical feature.
MFi controllers (and MFi controller forwarding) are absolutely guaranteed for a game-playing Apple TV. The only mystery to me is whether Apple makes their own game controller, and if so, whether it comes with the Apple TV. I tend to think no to both; that Apple would rather let third parties handle this, and that even if Apple did make their own, they'd rather charge extra for it.
Lastly, an integrated App Store suggests greater storage requirements. The 8 gigs in the current Apple TV aren't going to cut it. This is where Apple could expand the Apple TV product line even further. Perhaps they offer a $149 Apple TV with 32 gigabytes of storage and no controller, while also offering a $249 Apple TV with 128 gigabytes and an included gamepad. The only thing I'd rule out is a traditional-style hard drive - it might work for the PlayStations and Xboxes, but Apple will never use a spinning disk with iOS.
Of course, this is all speculation. The only thing we know for sure is that WWDC will bring updated operating systems. And on that note...
iOS 9 and 10.11
I think the OS updates will be relatively straightforward. Rumor sites keep leaking the same thing: these will be mostly performance and security updates, with a few new features thrown in. Too much smoke here for there not to be fire. The timing of the rumors, coming right after public outcry from various Apple blogs, suggests Apple sourced these rumors themselves.
Beyond performance fixes, iOS 9 will probably get better maps, a new Music streaming service, Siri improvements - the expected stuff. Mac OS 10.11 will hopefully get functional networking and a framerate closer to what it was under 10.9, before Yosemite made everything choppy. I don't know, I can hope, right?
It wouldn't surprise me to see iOS 9 get ONE big feature, at least on certain hardware: split-screen multitasking. It's no secret that Apple has been testing this feature. The latest iPad Air 2 hardware is more than capable of handling it. I think we might finally see it. I'm not the least bit sure how it'll function, though - something to look forward to!
New iOS and Mac Hardware
I'd be shocked if we saw much in the way of hardware this time. The Mac line just received major refreshes over the past several months, and Intel doesn't have anything new to justify any further refreshes. If anything, a spec bump to the Mac Pro or Mac Mini could happen. But I doubt it.
New iOS hardware is slightly more likely. I've always thought WWDC would be a perfect venue to release new iPod Touch hardware2, and it wouldn't shock me to see Apple finally refresh that product line. A newer iPad is also possible - we've been hearing rumblings of a 12-inch iPad for years now, and it would fit nicely with the split-screen app reveal. Maybe they could finally spec-bump the iPad Mini at the same time, though I wouldn't expect it to get split-screen apps.
If Apple does release a 12-inch iPad, I wouldn't be surprised if Apple also made an optional stylus or keyboard for it. The keyboards from the new MacBook would seem to lend themselves perfectly to an iPad3, and it wouldn't surprise me to see such a product released.
If Apple releases a major upgrade to the Apple TV, they could release new MFi controllers at the same time, either first-party or in partnership with other companies (probably SteelSeries). These controllers would be pitched as designed for the Apple TV, but would almost certainly work with iPhones and iPads. The list of MFi controllers is large, but an Apple-designed or Apple blessed entry would be worth consideration.
There will be no new iPhones, of course. Those come in September.
Apple will be live-streaming the keynote address to all manner of devices, and I'll be watching this stream live as it happens. I won't be attending WWDC this year, but I am in San Francisco, and will be visiting AltConf. If anyone is interested in getting together for some coffee and/or gaming, that could be arranged.
The current implementation was already significantly improved with a "silent revision" to the 3rd-generation Apple TV. This upgraded model makes a direct WiFi connection to the iPhone for AirPlay, bypassing the wireless router entirely and enabling much higher quality video. ↩
A bunch of developers on vacation in SF who want to experiment with the new iOS, but don't want to mess up their primary iPhones - it's hard to imagine a better audience for a new iPod Touch. ↩
There has been some controversy about just how good the keyboards on the new MacBooks are. Based on my limited experience at the Apple Store, they're inferior to traditional laptop keyboards, but better than any iPad keyboard covers or cases I've tried (and I've reviewed many!). A dedicated Bluetooth keyboard will always be a superior typing experience to a keyboard that attaches to the iPad, but if Apple can make something good enough and a lot more convenient, I'm sold. ↩
Looks like some of these deals are expiring - the Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i is showing a much more modest discount. These deals have a way of coming back, though, so it's worth bookmarking them if you're interested.
If you've been waiting for your favorite MFi controllers to go on sale, now might be the time to buy. Amazon is offering steep discounts on several controllers, new and old.
If you're still rocking an iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, or iPod Touch, there are a couple of other options available. The Logitech PowerShell - originally $99 - is currently available for $10 new - a full 90% off the original price. If you want an extended layout controller, the Moga Ace Power is currently available for $32, which is a big drop from the original $100 price tag.
More interestingly, the excellent Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i is available for $40 right now, down from it's usual $60 price. I wrote an extensive review of this controller, and I thought it was a great deal at $60. For $40, it's a no-brainer.
John Gruber at Daring Fireball pointed out something I missed about Recode selling to Vox: Recode had 44 full-time employees.
The advantage the internet provides to new publishers is that there’s so little overhead. You can go really far with a really small talented team. 44 employees sounds like Recode was trying to go head-to-head with the Wall Street Journal on the business/tech beat. Rather than start small and grow big organically, they wanted to start big. And so to start big they took on investors, and next thing you know, they had to sell.
How the hell did Recode have 44 full-time employees? Recode wasn't particularly well designed or feature rich. There aren't that many writers. What did everyone do?
AfterPad has one employee. Me. I'm not a professional writer, designer, or programmer. And yet I've been able to build this site on my own. No VC funding required. AfterPad isn't perfect, but it's mine.
After months of requests, Gameloft updated a few more classics from their back catalog.
Order and Chaos Online, the Warcraft-esque MMORPG, is first in line for controller support. It previously supported a Gameloft-designed controller called the Duo, but as that controller is no longer available, it was just a matter of time before MFi support was added.
Blitz Brigade, Gameloft's take on Team Fortress 2, is perhaps an even more interesting update. People have been asking for this one in the forums for the past week - it's a nice coincidence to see an update hit the store a few days later!
Stephen Fry published a story Monday. Ostensibly about Apple’s upper executives and the new campus, the real story was buried in the middle: Jony Ive got a new job.
When I catch up with Ive alone, I ask him why he has seemingly relinquished the two departments that had been so successfully under his control. “Well, I’m still in charge of both,” he says, “I am called Chief Design Officer. Having Alan and Richard in place frees me up from some of the administrative and management work which isn’t … which isn’t …”
“Which isn’t what you were put on this planet to do?”
Those two are as good as it gets. Richard was lead on the iPhone from the start. He saw it all the way through from prototypes to the first model we released. Alan has a genius for human interface design. So much of the Apple Watch’s operating system came from him. With those two in place I can …”
I could feel him avoiding the phrase “blue sky thinking”… think more freely?”
Jony will travel more, he told me. Among other things, he will bring his energies to bear – as he has already since their inception – on the Apple Stores that are proliferating around the world. The company’s retail spaces have been one of their most extraordinary successes.
Jony was promoted from Senior Vice President of Design to the newly-created position of Chief Design Officer. In fact, one might say Jony was promoted right out of the building – as of July 1st, he won’t personally be in charge of hardware or software design, instead managing other executives in these roles. It’s hard to say whether this is good news or bad news, but it is news nonetheless. It could mean Jony is stepping away and returning to his British homeland. It could also mean exactly what it says – that he wants more of an overhead role, and would rather leave execution details to SVPs.
Great news for space combat fans: the excellent Strike Wing just recieved a major update.
A full second episode of the game is included in this update, and is available free for everyone. Also of note: improved performance, better graphics, full MFi controller support (even in the menus!), and a wealth of new content and unlockables.
Multiple AAA titles with MFi controller support have hit the App Store over the past few weeks. Strike Wing, even though it was released a year and a half ago, more than holds its own with the latest contenders.
Strike Wing is on sale for $0.99 to celebrate the update. The price goes up to $2.99 tomorrow – if you’ve been looking for a good sci-fi space combat simulator, there has never been a better time to give Strike Wing a download.
Apple added a few new products to their store shelves yesterday. While most of the focus was on new iMacs and new MacBooks, the Horipad MFi controller was snuck onto store shelves at the same time.
The Horipad isn’t a new controller; it was originally released December of last year. But this marks the first time you’ve been able to get one in the United States outside of Amazon Store distribution.
In fact, for the past several months, Apple Stores have only carried the SteelSeries Stratus and SteelSeries Stratus XL controllers. While there is nothing particularly horrible about those controllers, they are inferior to the Horipad1.
In the time since writing my (very positive) review of the Horipad, my opinion of this controller has continued to grow. Its my personal favorite of the Bluetooth MFi controllers, and my second favorite overall controller, behind only the Gamevice.
If the Horipad included an iPhone grip, it would be my definitive recommendation. As it stands, this is still an incredible controller. The traditional-style analog layout and killer d-pad make it the best option for retro gamers.
If the reason you’ve been holding off on the Horipad is because you wanted to buy one in person, rather than ordering through Amazon, now’s your chance. If you don’t need an iPhone grip and love the PlayStation button layout, I give the Horipad my strongest recommendation.
Great news, MFi controller fans: the C.T.R.L.i is back on sale, this time with the black and white options both available for 25% off, at $45; a full $5 less than the smaller (but also excellent) Micro C.T.R.L.i retails for.
I reviewed the C.T.R.L.i and found it to be a solid, capable bluetooth MFi controller option. Also of note: it’s by far the best choice for iPhone 6 Plus owners, since it’s the only controller with a weight distribution that doesn’t cause the larger iPhone to fall over off-balance.
The C.T.R.L.i has been on sale several times before, but we’ve never had such a steep discount for anything other than the black controller before. If you’re tired of black gamepads (or want a backup for Player 2), this is a great time to strike.