Bad News, Good News & Clarifications.
Since our last update we have received a lot of questions: Which profiles do we support? Which Bluetooth modules do we have? Does it support iPhones and Android? In this update we will try to clarify these issues. And yes also this time we will have bad & good news.
As you remember, the MFi license will be crucial for long term iOS support, and ladies and gentleman: WE GOT IT! Last time we told you guys that we had received an MFi agreement. Well, since then it's been signed by both sides, and we have received full access to the MFi developer documentation. At the moment we are trying to determine to which extend our controller complies with the requirements of Apple. As shown in the presentation of Apple, there are different form factors for the controller. The problem is that Phonejoy is both a standalone and form-fitting game controller at the same time. We are still awaiting approval from Apple whether they will allow this. Apart from that, there are a number of other hurdles such as a different communication protocol and design specifications (buttons, labeling, LEDs, layout) that vary from our current design and functionality concept, which means that we can neither make a controller that works both with Android and the new MFi Game Controller API nor can we use the current game controller design (buttons and case) for a separate MFi Controller version.
All this confirms what we had been afraid of all along. We have no choice but to design a completely new game controller that meets all of Apple's specifications. This will be a significant endeavour and it may take more than half a year, since it will be an almost entirely different product. There is not much else we can do, since we have to play by Apple's rulebook here. The first Phonejoy we will release will be therefore primarily for Android (with limited iOS support via iCade) supporting HID Gamepad, Keyboard, iCade and Mouse mode.
Surely most of you remember their childhood… Did you spent your time playing soccer in the park or were you wasting your childhood spending quarters at the local arcade? Now how about turning your iPad into a classic arcade? What originally started as an April's fool's joke by ThinkGeek in 2010, developed into a full product in 2011 - the iCade.
iCade is an accessory that allows you to turn your iPad into a mini-arcade machine. iCade communicates through Bluetooth and emulates a keyboard. Each “iCade” game implements the specific iCade keyboard key mapping as well. The iCade mapping provides users with the classic arcade configuration of one joystick (up, down, left, right) and eight action buttons. Until recently it had been the leading game controller standard on iOS. Phonejoy (for Android) supports this key mapping standard, which we have been referring to as iCade mode since the beginning of this Kickstarter. Therefore, Phonejoy does have compatibility with iPhones and iPads, however it comes with some limitations.
Limitation of iCade & why we first wanted to use BLE
The biggest limitation of iCade is the lack of true Analog joystick controls (it still is just a keyboard in the end). Analog controls allow for the extra precision needed for 3D gaming content. In February when we had to switch our Bluetooth manufacturer, we had to change our Bluetooth modules, which at the same time led to the plan to use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for iOS, which would have allowed us to create our own game controller standard with full analog controls among some other features without the need of MFi. When Apple however came out with their own official Game Controller API/standard we put all development of our BLE firmware development to a stop, since it led to some developers issuing concerns about implementing our own API/standard. Eventually, we decided that it was not going to be worth pulling through with it and increasing our costs developing a standard that was going to be dead-on-arrival.
The advantage of using Apple's standard is obvious. Their tough specs will allow for a similar and decent game controller experience across the board, making it easy for game developers to provide and test for physical gaming controls. We will therefore most definitely see a growing influx of games that support game controllers, yet at the same time iCade (as would have been ours) as a standard will inevitably become irrelevant for future games.
What is iCade still good for?
iCade still allows you to play around 200 games on iOS, most of which are classic 2D games. You can access a list of games here and as well as here. Moreover, if you have jailbreak, you can use iCade mode to emulate touch controls using Blutrol as well as play countless of classic games using emulators for some legacy systems such as MAME, NES, SNES and others. All of our original iOS videos shot for this Kickstarter were using iCade controls.
In short, Apple's own implementation will be the future for iOS gaming, however iCade still has some usage so even though Apple's official API will become the essential game controller standard for developers to implement.
Since we still got a lot of questions regarding the Bluetooth modules and support for Android we will try to clarify a few things.
1. Android 4.3 does NOT support HID over GATT. Meaning: it does NOT work with Bluetooth Low Energy / 4.0 (BLE) modules. So even though Android 4.3 supports BLE it does not support the HID profile which is needed to support Android's standard game controller implementation meaning we would have to create another standard. Our source at Google also indicated that they are not even sure if they will implement it in the future.
2. BLE does not have any relevant latency improvements over Bluetooth Classic. There is only less latency for when the connection is first established, once the game controller is connected however the latency is essentially the same (below 20ms). In practice it will only take up a few extra seconds for the controller to connect to your phone and nothing else.
3. The biggest improvement BLE has over Bluetooth Classic in our case on Android would be increased battery life. Even without BLE we still have hit nearly 10 hours of battery life. We therefore do not hold battery life as paramount over the advantages of using Bluetooth Classic HID. As mentioned above, we had only planned on using BLE initially, because we could have created our own standard on iOS with it.
To sum up, BLE only works with Android 4.3 and does not support the official Android game controller standard we have decided not to implement it.
Hard (ware) news: Theory Vs Practise
The last few weeks, Dale and Alex assembled and tested some prototypes. By assembling prototypes with new the actual components coming from the molds, we have discovered three major problems:
- The PCBs are too thick;
- The screws are hitting the chipset;
- The EasySlider still has a little friction.
Until now we could only test prototypes that were “machined” meaning that they can be perfectly straight. One of the characteristics of molded parts is that they need to have so called “draft angles” which allow the injected parts to come out of the mold. The factory changed the angles slightly to ensure the parts could get out of the molds. Now it turned out that these draft angles are messing with the smoothness of the slider itself, and the space between the slider and the PCB’s. In order to save time, we have made some basic tests thanks to our 3D printer. It’s difficult to hit the sweet spot cause we use prototypes and machined parts, but with the parts from the 3D printer we were able to 3D print some protective cases for the PCBs. The problem is that we don’t actually have space for the protective cases. To solve this problem we ordered thinner PCB prototypes which ensure we will have enough space, which will arrive in about a week's time.
Countersunk screws In order to solve our screws issue, we ordered and tested special Japanese screws, which will be countersunk into the steel plates so they won’t scratch the internal parts.
In contrast to the other problems which we manage to solve, this is actually a big problem. The draft angles are necessary for the production process and we can't simple decrease the measurements to make it slide smoothly because it would make the slider to flimsy. Alex, Martin, Dale and our investors went to the factory in mainland China to solve this problem together and to make sure its a top priority for the factory.
After the first proof of concept firmware, Dale started to write the production firmware. He needs two more weeks to finish support for all the profiles. After that we will test it to make sure all the bugs are solved, because we don’t want to go in production with bugs ;)
Since our last update, we have finished some of the remaining stages.
Packaging → Done! The packaging factory finished finished adjusting the molds and we decided on the layout.
Adapters → Done! We hope to receive the first production samples soon.
Steel Tools → Done
Molds for the slider → Besides thinking of a different way to mold the sliders we will also have to redo the physical molds which takes up a lot of resources both in money and time. We spend 3 weeks rethinking and collaborating with the factory and they will need another 4 weeks to adjust the molds. Which means we can continue with the next steps in october. Moulds issues repercussions
Choice of Production & Assembly Factory → Martin and Alex visited a few OEM manufacturers in August in order to decide on the final assembly production site of Phonejoy. We have narrowed it down to three factories and are currently negotiating the pricing and schedule. We expect to come to an agreement within the next 5-10 days.
Pre-screening Certification & Fitness for Use Test → Although we are already testing Phonejoy wherever we go ...
we will still need to have the test lab put Phonejoy to some proper mechanical stress tests, to ensure a certain degree of durability and product longevity. This will be done as soon as we can assemble the product with final production components. Our target is to do the fitness for use testing prior to the pilot run. If the PhoneJoy survives the fitness for use testing. We can proceed with the pre-screening of PhoneJoy. The pre-screening essentially includes the most essential tests for a CE/FCC certification. Should we pass those we will most likely not be required to make any more changes to the product.
Pilot Run in November & Assembly Line setup → Once the fitness for use test has been passed we can run a pilot run of a very small batch production. We will launch the pilot run in the first week of november.
Testing Equipment → During the pilot run we will need to develop testing fixtures that will automate much of the testing of the circuit boards functionality and final product.
CE/FCC Certification → Once the pre-screening, fitness for use testing, packaging, and accessories have been finished. The complete retail-ready product can be sent to SGS for the complete run of tests for CE and FCC. This is expected to last for two weeks. Once it’s cleared we are allowed to mail the PhoneJoy units to you guys.
Start of Mass-Production → During and at the end of the pilot run we will be able to examine, review and adjust the procedures. If everything’s been running smooth we expect to start the production in mid-November. However, this is subject to passing the pre-screening and fitness for use test and the manufacturer’s own schedule. We can assemble a first batch of 3000 Phonejoys during the third week of November.
Shipping → This will depend on the assembly time and schedule. But our plan is to produce small batches and start distributing them in bi-weekly intervals, which means that we would be able to ship first units to backers during the first week of December.
Mobile App Development
Our iOS app will release at the same time as the controller. Our iTunes Enterprise Partner Feed has been approved so we’re now able to tap into the data feed of the app store. Jacques is working on a script in order to import and sort all application data we can get. Beneath you’ll find some mock-ups of the early iOS app builds.
GDC China and TGS2013
Two weeks ago, Martin, Jordi and Carlos (our sales rep for Japan/Korea) have been to GDC China in Shanghai and the Tokyo Game Show.
We have got some valuable feedback from developers for our Android and iOS app. Generally speaking the feedback we have received has been great. There is a lot of positive energy out there and it's great to see that Phonejoy can provide value to both end-users as well as developers.
Now we got our MFi license we are confident we will be able to make an Apple approved controller supporting the official iOS 7 Game Controller standard. However, we will have to make some changes to the current design. We don’t have all the technical and approval specification yet so we can’t tell quite yet what Phonejoy for iOS will look like and whether it will have feature the EasySlider. These are all things we are still trying to figure out. Therefore, we also can’t give an accurate release date at this moment. Depending on Apple's requirements it can take anywhere between six to nine months development time.
So just to make things clear, there will be 2 version of the controller:
The Original Phonejoy Controller
This is the controller you originally backed for, it has full support for Android (HID Gamepad / HID Keyboard / HID Mouse) as well as iCade allowing for limited iOS support.
The Phonejoy for iOS / MFi version
This is the controller our engineers will start developing as soon as the development of the original version is finished. This version will have support for Apple;s new controller api and may possibly also support Android.
Note: The MFI version isn't part of the Kickstarter campaign! Therefore it may be possible that none of specification and looks of the original controller will apply to this version!
Choices: We raised the choice before, and we are not going back on this. You can choose which of the two versions you want! You can change your preference at any moment until October, 31. Please make sure you leave the e-mail address associated with your Kickstarter or PayPal account! If you have not filled in our form, you can find it -->HERE<--
You have 2 options:
The Original Phonejoy Controller
You choose the original controller which will support Android and iCade, this is the controller you backed for.
The Phonejoy for iOS / MFi version
You choose the MFi version of the controller: because we want to make our backers happy we will let you choose to receive the brand new yet to be developed MFi version for Apple with support for their new iOS7 API! If you opt for the Phonejoy Original version you will be able to change until the 31st of October. If you choose for the MFi version you will be able to change your mind at any time (until further notice) and we will simply sent you the original version.
Since our new website is still under construction, we decided to make a temporary webshop until the new one is finished. The pre-orders are open now and you can order the Black & White controller! The package includes the pouch, audio adapter, charging adapter and micro-USB charging cable. The controllers will be $69,90 US dollar and we will start shipping the pre-orders after we have shipped to our Kickstarter backers. Expected availability for the pre-order is December.
A little news about the team. Sylvain from France will join the Phonejoy team. He is a friend of the team for a while so we had no problem giving him a hard time during the interview :)
Still, he made it through (he has been saved by his worst flaw ;)) and is very excited about his new mission. He will join the team as Business Development manager. Besides following up with prospects and clients, Sylvain will attend tradeshows and liaise with our agents. He studied business in France and Germany before starting his career in Hong Kong.
We told you in the last update, we applied for the Cyberport Incubation Program. Well thanks to Martin’s awesome presentation skills we got approved and we will move to Cyberport tomorrow! It means that our 7 man strong team can finally leave our tiny weeny 150 sq ft office and move to something larger. Plus we will get some extra government funds that cover a few expenses. In case you have forgotten what Cyberport is; let us google that for you ;)
We hope, this update will clarify all misunderstood stuff. Don’t forget to fill out our FORM in order to chose between:
- Original Android/iCade version
- MFi version
You (and we) are looking forward to finish the development and to ship your controller. The coming weeks (and months) will be really busy. We are going to focus on the final development stage and we will start preparing the shipment stage.
Link to the Controller Choice FORM: https://docs.google.com/a/phonejoy.us/forms/d/1cOHEIpy09RWiLovQCzvFpMZXB0LnOqMDvSUMG3OKEYM/viewform
Stay tuned for our next update!
- Mike, Jordi & The Phonejoy team