Apple patents snap-on iPhone game controller and keyboard accessories

Posted:
in General Discussion edited February 2015
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday granted Apple's patent for an iPhone gaming accessory that extends in-game controls beyond the handset's display and onto D-pads or joysticks, saving precious screen real estate in the process.


Source: USPTO


Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,939,838 for an "Accessory for playing games with a portable electronic device," was filed for over six years ago, just after the iPhone 3G was announced, and describes a piece of gaming hardware designed exclusively for use with a handset or portable media player, like the iPod. Also mentioned among the invention's many hardware variations is an external thumb keyboard device.

According to the document, Apple recognized the iPhone's untapped gaming potential, the surface of which was just being scratched when the patent was filed with the introduction of the App Store and third-party titles like FieldRunners, GTS World Racing and Rolando. Most first- and second-generation games took advantage of the iPhone's multitouch screen, but Apple notes onscreen control methods often disrupt a player's view.




To solve this newfound problem, Apple's patent details an add-on device with directional pads, joysticks, action buttons and more. All important controls are positioned around a central recess that serves as a dock for a user's iPhone -- positioned in either landscape or portrait orientation -- which slides, snaps or otherwise locks itself in place. Certain embodiments hold conditions for extras like cameras, microphones, speakers and in one example, a Nintendo DS-like secondary multitouch display. Apple suggests a second handset can be used for the latter.

When inserted into the gaming pad, the iPhone essentially becomes part of a larger portable system complete with multiple D-pads or joysticks, full-function action buttons, "rumble" feedback and other niceties. Apple points out that the controller may not require a hardwired connection and can instead communicate with an iPhone wirelessly, eliminating the need for bulky connectors.

The patent also provides for wireless multiplayer gaming with other players using similar accessory hardware. Like many portable gaming consoles, Apple's proposed setup would include point-to-point or ad-hoc connectivity established using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, as well as capabilities for gaming online.

In some embodiments, the gaming device contains onboard storage for offloading game files and profiles, meaning Apple designed the device to be multi-user friendly.




Interestingly, another implementation of the invention outlines a snap-on attachment with physical thumb keyboard, much like the Typo Bluetooth keyboard introduced in 2014. In the patent, Apple points out that the iPhone's soft keyboard eats up a large portion of screen real estate, though that problem has been somewhat nullified as the handset's display size has increased over the years.

Finally, the device may be capable of streaming gameplay onto an external monitor, a technology already built into current versions of AirPlay and supported by various third-party apps.




Since Apple first applied for its gaming accessory patent, a number of aftermarket manufacturers have stepped in with nearly identical designs, including the Moga Ace gaming controller and its newer sibling, the Moga Rebel.

Apple's iPhone gaming accessory patent was first filed for in 2008 and credits Brett Gregory Alten and Sanjay Sadanand Gadkari as its inventors.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    I've always been astonished by the low quality of graphics in Apple's patent applications. Here's how they were doing it in the late 1800s.
    [IMG ALT=""]http://forums.appleinsider.com/content/type/61/id/54763/width/350/height/700[/IMG]
  • Reply 2 of 18
    irelandireland Posts: 17,588member
    Filed in 2008. Slow news day around here.
  • Reply 3 of 18
    I'm pretty sure that would be to reveal as little as possible of the design detail of new products while still meeting minimum requirements for patent diagrams
  • Reply 4 of 18
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    ireland wrote: »
    Filed in 2008. Slow news day around here.

    Nonsense. The patent was only granted this week, making it timely news. I'm very interested in hints and clue to how Apple may think about gaming.

    How many of your 14,000 posts are complaining about pieces that (supposedly) don't interest you?
  • Reply 5 of 18
    lilgto64lilgto64 Posts: 1,147member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Macky the Macky View Post



    I've always been astonished by the low quality of graphics in Apple's patent applications. Here's how they were doing it in the late 1800s.


    The purpose of the illustrations is to demonstrate the functional purpose or the even the logical arrangement of the items covered by the patent - not to reveal the industrial design or aesthetics of a finished product. If the drawings and diagrams in the patents were overly specific as to the look and feel then it might be easier for someone else to copy the functional aspects and argue that their look and feel was far enough removed from the patent as to not constitute infringement. 

  • Reply 6 of 18
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,254member
    nolamacguy wrote: »
    Nonsense. The patent was only granted this week, making it timely news. I'm very interested in hints and clue to how Apple may think about gaming.

    How many of your 14,000 posts are complaining about pieces that (supposedly) don't interest you?

    Some posters' glasses are always half empty. I must say I enjoy the other kind more. 8-)
  • Reply 7 of 18
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,569member

    So Apple was granted this patent, however, we seen other companies in the last few years come out with similar devices. I wonders if those companies are licensing the idea from Apple or that Apple is not interested in going after those companies since they have no plans for products of their own.

  • Reply 8 of 18
    maestro64 wrote: »
    So Apple was granted this patent, however, we seen other companies in the last few years come out with similar devices. I wonders if those companies are licensing the idea from Apple or that Apple is not interested in going after those companies since they have no plans for products of their own.

    There are a bunch of companies that should be very nervous today. Apple, release the lawyers!
  • Reply 9 of 18
    v900v900 Posts: 101member
    I'm pretty sure that would be to reveal as little as possible of the design detail of new products while still meeting minimum requirements for patent diagrams

    And don't forget: In the 19th century they were dealing solely with mechanical products, where a tiny deviation from plan to prototype might meant it won't work as intended.

    That's not the case with a product like this, where you can't really depict something like 'wireless functionality' in a accurate way.
  • Reply 10 of 18
    v900v900 Posts: 101member
    Most of them have a financial/licensee relationship with Apple anyways.

    But since they didn't file a patent for this, and there is no prior art, Apple could demand royalties/licences from them.

    Personally I'm fine with the practice that launching a product taking secondary place after inventing a product.

    But it's seriously messed up that it took over 6 years from application to a patent granted.
  • Reply 11 of 18
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post





    Some posters' glasses are always half empty. I must say I enjoy the other kind more. image



    No matter what your philisophical view of the glass is, the glass is always 100% full unless you're in hard vacuum.

     

    Yes, I'm a pedant.

  • Reply 12 of 18
    Impressive that Apple foresaw all of the variations shown in the patent.
  • Reply 13 of 18

    I've never enjoyed gaming on smartphones, but this seems interesting

  • Reply 14 of 18
    ash471ash471 Posts: 705member
    There are a bunch of companies that should be very nervous today. Apple, release the lawyers!
    I'm sure Apple has no interest in shutting down small companies building products that use iPhones. They will use this patent if and when they need it as leverage against a competitor like Google or Microsoft. And even then, the most likely outcome is a cross license, not a patent infringement lawsuit. The patent isn't core to their business.
  • Reply 15 of 18
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ash471 View Post





    I'm sure Apple has no interest in shutting down small companies building products that use iPhones. They will use this patent if and when they need it as leverage against a competitor like Google or Microsoft. And even then, the most likely outcome is a cross license, not a patent infringement lawsuit. The patent isn't core to their business.



    They defend their patents. Microsoft, Google and other companies all have certain licensing arrangements with Apple. There is nothing that says they wouldn't license this patent (or even the stylus patent) if it made business sense to do so.

  • Reply 16 of 18
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 12,980member

    They defend their patents. Microsoft, Google and other companies all have certain licensing arrangements with Apple. There is nothing that says they wouldn't license this patent (or even the stylus patent) if it made business sense to do so.

    Apple also gave guidance on how to build a controller for the iPhone/iPod Touch.

    https://developer.apple.com/library/ios/documentation/ServicesDiscovery/Conceptual/GameControllerPG/Introduction/Introduction.html
  • Reply 17 of 18
    ash471ash471 Posts: 705member

    They defend their patents. Microsoft, Google and other companies all have certain licensing arrangements with Apple. There is nothing that says they wouldn't license this patent (or even the stylus patent) if it made business sense to do so.
    The point is there isn't likely any scenario where licensing to these small hardware vendors would make sense. Not worth the hassle and there is not really any downside to letting them infringe. The infringement stimulates the iOS ecosystem.
  • Reply 18 of 18

    My guess is that the companies getting MFI certification for their controllers are getting licenses to these patents as part of that certification/fee.

     

    Now if there are companies out their making controllers like this that aren't MFI certified, then yes I could see Apple going after them for patent violations now.

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