Apple could create a gamepad that attaches magnetically to the iPhone

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Apple Arcade games could be played in the future using console-style game controllers that snap magnetically onto the sides of an iPhone or iPad.

Many Apple Arcade games are either designed to be played with a game controller or work best with just one. Currently, your best option is to simply buy a separate controller, although the Backbone One does exist.

This $99 device takes the left and right sides of a familiar-looking game controller and separates them with a wide, flat strip of plastic. It’s exactly the right size to slot in an iPhone, and the result is a regular iPhone with full game controller paddles and buttons.

Backbone One is currently shipping, but a newly revealed patent application shows that Apple has its own, and more important, ideas to help iPhone gamers. The end result would be similar, but instead of inserting an iPhone, you’d magnetically snap the controls to the side of the device.

“Magnetically attachable game accessory”, offers a system that resembles the Apple Pencil. This can now be magnetically attached to an iPad, and rather than just attaching the stylus to it, the Apple Pencil can be charged.

To be clear, Apple presents this patent application as dealing with games, but the details it contains are intended to cover the connection of any accessory to an iPhone or iPad.

“Accessories that can enhance a specific functionality of an electronic device, can easily attach to an electronic device, can be easy to use, and can have a small and efficient form factor,” he says. “An example may be providing a game accessory that can enhance the game functionality of an electronic device, such as a phone, tablet, or other computing device.”

“This gaming accessory may provide a physical interface for controlling gaming activities on the electronic device,” it continues, “so that a screen of the electronic device remains at least largely unobstructed during gameplay.”

Apple points out that we all have our iPhones with us all the time, and that means they’re called upon to perform a number of different tasks.

“Because of this constant companionship, it may be desirable for these electronic devices to be particularly adept at performing specific functions,” Apple explains. “As a result, it may be desirable to provide accessories to enhance one or more features of an electronic device.”

However, it “can be difficult to attach an accessory”, and furthermore, Apple claims that any “significant effort to establish such a connection can quickly reduce the attractiveness and usefulness of the accessory”.

Apple therefore maintains that accessories should be simple and practical.

“Thus, what we need are accessories that can enhance a specific functionality of an electronic device,” the patent application continues, “can easily attach to an electronic device, can be easy to use, and can have a small and efficient form factor.”

Therefore, Apple offers as an example, a game controller that includes “an attachment feature that can attach the gaming accessory to a surface of an electronic device.”

Patent detail showing game controls attached to an iPhone

It is not enough to snap an accessory on the side. While Apple focuses primarily on this connection in this patent application, it emphasizes that the accessory must be able to transmit information directly to the iPhone or iPad.

“For example, data can be transferred between a game accessory and an electronic device using near-field communication circuitry,” he says. “[Or data] can be transferred between a gaming accessory and an electronic device using a charging circuit…Bluetooth or other wireless protocol… [or] electrical contact.”

Apple really sweats the details though. After advocating for the use of magnetically attached accessories, it also examines the risks they could pose to data on or near the iPhone.

“[It] may be desirable to limit the strength of a magnetic field generated by the fixed magnetic array on a contact surface of the gaming accessory,” explains Apple, “in order to protect information that might be stored magnetically, for example on credit cards, transit cards, or elsewhere.”

So the proposition is not just for accessories that attach magnetically, but for accessories that recognize when they are attached, detached or stored. They change their magnetic strength to adapt to current use.

This patent application is attributed to six inventors. They include Julian K. Missig, whose previous work for Apple includes a patent presumably related to Sidecar, for sharing data across multiple displays.

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