The future is mobile... or so that's what all the analysts are saying. It's hard to deny the fact that mobile devices basically rule the day when it comes to social interaction, productivity, and entertainment for billions of people around the world. Well, Microsoft believes that providing said mobile gamers with a better way to control their games is the right way to go.
This isn't just some move out of the blue, or Microsoft being kind to mobile gamers (although maybe that does play some part in the decision) the reality is that this all ties into the broader scope of Microsoft's plans to introduce gamers to the Xbox ecosystem even if they don't have an Xbox. According to Windows Central the new mobile controller ties into the upcoming Project xCloud initiative, which is set to start its public trials in 2019.
Windows Central cites research papers from Microsoft that showcase prototypes for potential upcoming controller add-ons for mobile devices. This includes a left and right controller module on the side of smartphone or tablet screens.
Microsoft's prototypes are cost-effective 3D printed shells that mimic the design of the Xbox One controller. They feature one analog stick each on the left and right handles, with a digital pad on the left module and the four face buttons on the right module. Customizable handles can be snapped on to the controller so you can get different grip-lengths as well. The bumpers and triggers are located on the underside of the actual controllers.
The modular design is based around the idea that different kinds of mobile users will want to use the controllers for different kinds of devices, including smartphones, tablets, and other touchscreen devices.
The prototypes are still a ways off from release, but according to the research paper, Microsoft based them around the designs that have become popular with other mobile gaming hardware such as the 3DS and the Nintendo Switch.
You can definitely see that there's some inspiration from the Joy-Cons given the detachable nature of their design. The functionality is still very much Xbox-oriented, but it also looks very similar to some of the Splitfish dual-control devices that were oh-so-popular back during late sixth gen and early seventh gen gaming.
Right now there's no ETA on when these mobile controllers will become available, but they definitely look snazzy. They remind me a lot of the Oculus Touch controllers that come with the Rift HMD.
Microsoft will likely keep refining the design, and probably find some solution on how to make the grip handles more compact and come with fewer pieces. A retractable grip design would probably be the best option, with a slider to bring the grip length out like a matryoshka doll, and some sort of plastic snap to hold the grips in place.
There's still some time to get a perfectly workable solution in place ahead of the launch of Project xCloud in 2019, but gamers can definitely get excited thinking about the new controllers coming down the pipeline for the upcoming streaming service.