The Archos GamePad Might Not Revolutionize Mobile Gaming, But Its Software Might

This is the Archos GamePad, newly released in Europe. We just covered it and talked about its features. Like I said in the earlier article, it seems like a mid end device with a controller bolted onto it, nothing special and definitely nothing revolutionary. That’s purely first impression, of course. Because if you look a little deeper, Archos may have something very special on their hands.

Controllers have long been a part of the Android gaming scene, but they’ve always been a fairly small niche. Many devices need root or adapter cables to use controllers. With some controllers (namely Sixaxis PS3 controlleers), you need a special app to map buttons properly, and that app is paid. Even I hook up my Xbox 360 wired controller to my Nexus 7 using a USB OTG cable. I had the controller laying around from being a cheapskate and not getting a second wireless controller for my Xbox 360 back in 2006 (I regret nothing, its use for PC gaming is irreplaceable), and the USB OTG cables can be purchased for under $5.

Even when you get the perfect setup, there is one huge problem: Developer support. Not many games support controllers of any kind. Dead Trigger does, and I play Dead Trigger with a 360 controller quite often. However, most of my other games don’t support controllers in any way. Wind-Up Knight, a game I love dearly, works a little with the controller but it isn’t playable. It responds to controller input though, and that’s something already. And that’s what I mean, any controller support is a surprise in games these days, and that shows you the state of support on Android. It isn’t pretty.

Lack of any support is precisely why I see all these cool new mobile controllers and scoff. Then I turn my back to it, so the controller doesn’t see the glimmer of a tear in my eye. I absolutely love the idea of controller support in more games, as I love using a controller for gaming. Not having my fingers get in the way when playing some games is a great experience, and I wish I could enjoy it more. However, the world just doesn’t want to see that happen, and it greatly upsets me. It’s amazing potential wasted.

Here is where the Archos GamePad wowed me. Check out this video:

I’m not quite sure what strikes me more: the obviousness of the solution, the absolute simplicity, or how well implemented it is. I really wish I had thought of it. All you do to program buttons is place little markers onto the on screen buttons and press the button you want to map it to. Simple, elegant, and personalized. While it isn’t quite perfect (the game isn’t frozen while you do it, pausing it wouldn’t be effective but freezing it in place would), it’s still great.

The GamePad itself isn’t all that amazing spec wise, but that’s the point. It’s supposed to be a cheap gaming device (cheaper than a PS Vita, actually), and it looks to excel at that. It also doubles as a nice Jelly Bean tablet. If it works as advertised, it’ll be a great device for a low price.

However, I’m afraid the GamePad will not succeed. Archos isn’t a hugely popular company, and their advertising is nonexistent to a consumer. Also, a lot of people who don’t know much about processors will look at the specs and pass it up. “Only dual core? It sucks!” No, not with a Mali-400 GPU. It’s the same GPU inside of the Galaxy Note II, and with a 1.6 GHz clock, it should kick ass even with two cores. But in the end, the chances for the GamePad to be truly successful are slim.

But let us look at the Android enthusiast community. We know that this could be a good product, and I’m sure many sales will be from us. However, what if we want a higher end option? What if we want to use what we already have? So many people have Nexus 7′s, complete with a quad core Tegra 3 processor, that lack controller support. This is where Archos can truly make a name for itself, and many even a bit of money at the same time.

They can modify this software and release it in two ways. The first way is to release the code and method of implementing this feature to the public, for ROM chefs to integrate into their software. Imagine ROMs for existing devices freely and easily integrating this feature. Imagine your Nexus 7 having this feature and working with both Bluetooth and USB controllers. It sounds like absolute bliss. The Archos name would really spread. Unfortunately, this would require modding your device, so it won’t be for everyone. Most of the time, you’d need to modify your device to add controller support anyway, but it still isn’t perfect.

A second way would be retool the software into an app. Throw it onto the Play Store and let people use it. Even make it a paid app; if it works well, we’d be glad to pay for it. It would be more inefficient, as you couldn’t have an icon in the system bar. Of course, I’m not sure if this is possible, but it’s an idea. It would require some manufacturer support to make sure devices support controllers natively, and it’ll take time, but it can probably be done.

Archos can do a lot to succeed, and appealing to the developer community would probably be their best bet. But I’d just love to see the actual GamePad succeed. If it works well, it’ll truly be a revolution for mobile gaming in my opinion. But I’d love to hear what you guys think. Will this revolutionize mobile gaming? Or is it irrelevant? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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