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Gaming: PS5 vs XB SX Case Design Review

Posted in game controller, gaming, video game console, video game design by commorancy on June 14, 2020

Since the Xbox Series X and the PS5’s case designs have now been unveiled by both Microsoft and Sony, respectively, let’s explore these case designs.

Sony’s PS5

Let’s start with the recent elephant in the room, the Sony PS5. Here are some images:

Xbox Series X

Note, I will henceforth be calling the Xbox Series X the Xbox SX. Here are images of this console:

Design Goals

Sony claims they wanted something “bold, daring and future facing” according to Sony’s CEO. Microsoft’s Xbox Phil Spencer claims they wanted the, “fastest, most powerful console ever”.

Regardless of the claims, let’s dive into the designs of these consoles. The first word that comes to mind is “dated”. Both the Xbox SX and the PS5 offer odd choices in case designs.

Let’s discuss the Xbox SX’s case design. This design has already been done and been done better… thrice, in fact. Once by NeXT and twice by Apple. Let’s look at designs past, shall we?

The above computers consist of the following:

  • Apple G4 Cube (circa 2000)
  • NeXT Cube (circa 1990)
  • Apple Mac Pro Cylinder (circa 2012)

All three of these computers are of a very similar design to the Xbox Series X. Microsoft never can seem to come up with original designs, instead choosing to abscond with older manufacturer designs. I’m not sure what it is about Microsoft’s inability to come up with innovative case designs, but this is what we get with Microsoft: clunky, outdated designs.

That’s not to say that Sony’s case design is much better. It’s unique, but in a word, “ugly”. If you like the look of consumer routers, then I guess the PS5’s case design is what you might like.

The main problem I have with both of these designs is that neither of them are stackable. It seems with Sony, it’s all about having an oddly round shaped surface. This means when you place it horizontally, you can’t stack anything on top of it. With the PS4 Pro, it offered us a fully flat top. Unfortunately, the PS3 had that, again, oddly rounded design. It seems that Sony vacillates between flat topped systems and oddly shaped systems. If Sony’s were the only device in the home, it might be okay. Since some of us have several pieces of gear, including multiple older and newer generation consoles, we want to stack them so we have them together.

Additionally, stacking a console vertically, at least in my cabinet, is out of the question. There is no way for me to locate the Xbox SX or the PS5 vertically. In fact, I have yet to place any console vertically in the last 10 years (no space) and it’s not going to happen now. Note, I talk about alternative placement of the Xbox SX below.

Waiting… and airflow

As a result, I’m likely to wait until the second case iteration of the PS5. I’ve invested in too many first gen consoles and gotten burned. The only time where having the first edition console was a boon was with the PS3… before Sony yanked out the PS2 compatibility and several other useful features for later iterations. That was the one and only one time when it was a benefit. That didn’t excuse the horrible rounded PS3 case design, nor does it excuse the rounded case design of the PS5.

With the Xbox SX, it can at least be placed horizontally. In fact, this console design might actually fare better horizontally than vertically. Why? When standing vertical, there will be limited airspace under the bottom of the unit with which to pull air up and through. The airspace distance is probably designed well enough, but sitting close to a surface will still limit the amount of air flow.

Placing the Xbox SX case horizontally completely unobstructs the bottom intake vent and allows full and complete airflow through the unit. Placing the Xbox Series X horizontally might actually be the better way to place this unit for the best airflow possible. Sony’s case design probably won’t have an airflow problem. They usually don’t.

Sony’s choice of white case, black inner section using blue case lighting is also a throwback design problem. It has the same aesthetic as the Nintendo Wii. It’s not the same case shape, of course, but it has a similar lighting and visual aesthetic.

Form vs Function

One thing that video game console designers need to understand is that it really doesn’t matter how aesthetically pleasing a case design is. What matters is how well the console functions. That isn’t to say that we don’t enjoy seeing a pretty case, but we don’t spend time staring at it either. We want to use the unit, not stare at the case.

Therefore, the most important aspect of a video game console isn’t its case, it’s what’s under the hood and how well all of that works. Spend time making the innards work well. Make them solid and functional and with proper air flow. Put your effort and money into designing the innards and make that innovative. We don’t really care what it looks like.

In fact, as a gamer, I’d prefer the case be flat on top with airflow front-to-back or side-to-side so I can stack my other gear on top of it. A boxy looking case? Not a problem. Failing to understand this functional stacking issue is a design failure in my book. Clearly, Sony’s industrial designers weren’t considering ergonomics or functionality of its case design. For that matter, neither was Microsoft with the Xbox SX.

Case design isn’t really that important to a video game console unless it gets in the way of being installed into a cabinet… which both of these case designs do.

Vertical Design

More and more, game console creators want to produce vertical case designs. I’m not a fan. I don’t want my console sitting vertically. Not only do I have no cabinet space for this, I simply don’t like this design aesthetic. I prefer my computers to sit horizontally. This is partially to do with the cabinet I’ve chosen, but it’s partially due to the wasted space needed to place a console upright.

Case designers need to reconsider this unnecessary trend of designing for vertical installation. Any design that can be installed vertically should also be designed to install horizontally. Design for both use cases!

Blue LEDs

I’m also not a fan of blue colored LEDs. They are 1) too bright and 2) annoying as hell. At night, you simply can’t sleep with blue LED lights staring you in the face. They’re like little lasers piercing your retinas. I hate ’em with a passion. The faster we can get away from this blue LED trend, the better.

PS5 Reveal

Here’s the part where some of you may have been patiently waiting for me to chime in. Well, here it is. The PS5’s reveal was, meh. The gameplay was actually not any better looking than the PS4 Pro. The CPU and GPU might be somewhat faster, but Sony is reaching the law of diminishing returns. The PS5’s play was, well, not at all impressive. In fact, I was so unimpressed by the PS5’s gameplay so as to be disappointed.

I was expecting so much more from the PS5 and we’re basically getting another PS4 renamed PS5. It’s really unimpressive. Going back to the CEO’s remark, there’s really nothing “bold, daring or future facing” about this PS5 console. From the uninspired and knock-off case design to the PS4 graphics shoved into a new case. It’s really very unimpressive.

I’m not sure what Sony has been spending the last 2 years doing, but it’s clear they were not spending the time designing an innovative new product. The PS5 is a rehash of the PS4 in an oddly shaped case.

Innovation

Nintendo Switch

What is innovation? Innovation means to come up with something which hasn’t been seen or done exactly like that before. I’d consider the Nintendo Switch innovative. I’d also consider the Apple G4 Cube innovative. Why is the Switch innovative? Because not only is the Switch a dockable home console, you can take it with you and play on the go. It’s a powerhouse well big enough to work in both situations.

I was fully expecting this same level of innovation with the PS5. Unfortunately, what we got was exceedingly underwhelming. Even the “new” PS5 controller is bland and uninspired. This controller looks pretty much like the old controller with, again, horrible blue LED lights piercing your retinas and lighting up your face. Let’s hope that this time you can actually turn these silly lights off.

The touch pad remains, but is an unnecessary and almost never used feature of the PS4’s controller. The touch pad was simply a battery suck and a gimmick. I wouldn’t mind seeing Sony get rid of that touch pad garbage. As I said, battery suck, gimmick and completely unnecessary.

Yet, here the touch pad is again, making yet another unnecessary appearance. That’s most definitely not innovative. It simply means Sony is way out of touch with how most game developers use the PlayStation’s controller. Short of a handful of early game titles on the PS4, the touch pad was almost never used, other than as a button. Simply get rid of the battery hogging touch pad and replace it with a button, like the new Xbox SX controller has. If you need a touch pad for PS4 compatibility, allow connecting a PS4 controller via Bluetooth.

See, I innovated for you there, Sony. Microsoft’s Xbox SX controller, on the other hand, is about as simplistic and utilitarian as you can get. That doesn’t make it a problem. In fact, it looks so much like an Xbox One controller, you might not even notice that there’s a new button in the middle of the controller surface. It’s a button that basically does the same thing as the touch pad button on the PS4’s controller.

I was actually hoping to see a few more buttons added to both the Xbox SX and the PS5 controller. Buttons that can be programmed for lesser used functions so that game developers don’t have to keep overloading functions onto the same buttons depending on context. It’s frustrating, for example, to play Fallout 76 and expect the square button to do something, but does something entirely different because you’re too close to an in-game object. You have to move away before the original function resumes. Frustrating.

By having more buttons on the controller, you can map these lesser used functions to these other (smaller buttons) so that button overlapping in games becomes much less common.

PC’s don’t have this problem because you have a keyboard with usually 101 keys. On a controller, you have basically 13 buttons on the face plus 4 on the shoulders. I want more buttons on my controller’s face so game developers don’t have to overload button functions anymore. Yet, no such luck on the PS5 or Xbox SX. They are still basically the same ole controllers with the same limited buttons. Yeah, basically no innovation here.

Overall

I’m planning on waiting to purchase these consoles until the second iteration of the console. Possibly even until they release a case redesigned version. You know that both Sony and Microsoft will introduce subsequent case styles in the future. I tire of buying a the first day console and then having them redesign it six months later.

My plan is not to buy the console for at least six months to 1 year after release. I’ll stick with my PS4 and Xbox One until then. Even then, it doesn’t seem that many game developers will be taking advantage of the new console hardware fully for at least that time. Anything in development today on those consoles will have been using the gaming company’s older non-optimized engine. It will take at least six months for most developers to retool their engines to be optimized for the new platform.

For this reason and for the typical dearth of features that Sony is likely to offer us come release day, I’m waiting. There’s nothing like spending $700 to play one game, then let the console sit for 6 months without using it at all. Such a waste of $700.

No, I’m not doing that again Sony. I’ll lay out money towards a console once it actually has some gaming momentum behind it and usable features to boot. Once Netflix and Hulu and all of the staples arrive to the consoles, then there will be some reasons to consider. Until that day arrives, it’s a $700 paperweight.

Pricing

Don’t kid yourself about this next part. Even though pricing hasn’t been announced for the PS5 or the Xbox SX, you can bet that after buying games, accessories, cables, chargers and the console itself, you’ll easily have spent at least $700. The price will probably be closer to $1,000. Even the PS4 exceeded the $1,000 price point if you included a PSVR unit. If there’s a VR unit on the way for the PS5, then expect the PS5’s price point to hit $1,000 to $1,500, possibly more.

We’ll have to wait on the pricing, but Sony and Microsoft have to announce it soon. Few people will place a pre-order on these units without knowing what they’ll end up paying. I won’t. It’s a fundamental aspect of gaming. You have to know the cost of the unit to know if it’s worth the price.

If both Sony and Microsoft price at or close to $1,000 for a base unit, they are probably making huge mistakes. Since the gaming price point has always been $500 or so, doubling that price approaches PC pricing territory. If you can get a PC for cheaper than a console, what’s the point in buying a console?

Microsoft and Sony must be very careful when considering their price point for these consoles. For me, I’d value these consoles at being worth no more than $600-700 (regardless of the actual costs to assemble it). If they’re priced higher than this, the console industry is going to have a real problem on its hands. Even Nintendo may feel the pinch from it. Considering that the Switch costs $299, that’s an excellent price point for such a universally useful unit. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been lax on wooing developers to the platform. So far, Nintendo has only been able to woo Bethesda. Even then, Bethesda’s involvement on the Switch has been limited.

Sony and Microsoft must be very careful with their pricing. I’m actually hoping Microsoft announces their pricing first. This will start a price war between Sony and Microsoft. Sony will have to price the PS5 at or below the same price as the Xbox SX. Sony and Microsoft can ignore Nintendo’s pricing as Nintendo has never offered a similarly competitive console entry. It’s very unlikely Sony or Microsoft will ever price their consoles at $299. At least, not the day one console.

In the future, though, the pricing will be fluid and may approach the $299 price tag… yet another reason to wait.

Let’s hope that Sony and Microsoft can choose to do the right thing with these units and price them accordingly. At least, they shouldn’t be priced any higher than the Xbox One X or the PS4 Pro. As for the design, yeah, it could have been WAY better on both consoles.

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Can I use my Xbox One or PS4 controller on my iPhone?

Posted in Apple, botch, california, game controller, gaming, video game by commorancy on September 16, 2019

XboxOneEliteController-smThis is a common question regarding the two most popular game controllers to have ever existed. Let’s explore.

MFi Certification

Let’s start with a little history behind why game controllers have been a continual problem for Apple’s iOS devices. The difficulty comes down to Apple’s MFi controller certification program. Since MFi’s developer specification release, not many controller developers have chosen to adopt it. The one notable exception is the SteelSeries Nimbus controller. It’s a fair controller, it holds well enough in the hand, has an okay battery life, but it’s not that well made. It does sport a lightning port so you can charge it with your iPhone’s charger, however. That’s of little concession, though, when you actually want to use an Xbox One or PS4 controller instead.

Because Apple chose to rely on its own MFi specification and certification system, manufacturers would need to build a controller that satisfies that MFi certification. Satisfying the requirements of MFi and getting certified likely requires licensing technology built by Apple. As we know, licenses typically cost money paid to Apple for the privilege of using that technology. That’s great for Apple, not so great for the consumer.

Even though the SteelSeries Nimbus is by no means perfect, it really has become the de facto MFi controller simply because no other manufacturers have chosen to adopt Apple’s MFi system. And why would they?

Sony and Microsoft

Both Sony and Microsoft have held (and continue to hold) the market as the dominant game controllers. While the SteelSeries Nimbus may have become the de facto controller for Apple’s devices, simply because there is nothing else really available, the DualShock and the Xbox One controllers are far and away better controllers for gaming. Apple hasn’t yet been able to break into the console market, even as much as they have tried with the Apple TV. Game developers just haven’t embraced the Apple TV in the same way they have of the Xbox One and the PS4. That’s obvious as to why. The Apple TV, while reasonable for some games, simply does not offer the same level of graphics and game power as an Xbox One or PS4. It also doesn’t have a controller built by Apple.

Until Apple gets its head into the game properly with a more suitably named game system actually intended for gaming, rather than general purpose entertainment, Apple simply can’t become a third console. Apple seems to try these roundabout methods of introducing hardware to try and usurp, or at least insert itself into certain markets. Because of this subtle roundabout method Apple chooses, it just never works out. In the case of MFi, that hasn’t worked out too well for Apple.

Without a controller that Apple has built themselves, few people see the Apple TV as anything more than a TV entertainment system with built-in apps… even if it can run limited games. The Apple TV is simply not seen as a gaming console. It doesn’t ship with a controller. It isn’t named appropriately. Thus, it is simply not seen as a gaming console.

With that said, the PS4 and the Xbox One are fully seen as gaming consoles and prove that with every new game release. Sony and Microsoft also chose to design and build their own controllers based on their own specifications; specifications that are intended for use on their consoles. Neither Sony, nor will Microsoft go down the path to MFi certification. That’s just not in the cards. Again, why would they? These controllers are intended to be used on devices Sony and Microsoft make. They aren’t intended to be used with Apple devices. Hence, there is absolutely zero incentive for Microsoft or Sony to retool their respective game controllers to cater to Apple’s MFi certification whims. To date, this has yet to happen… and it likely never will.

Apple is (or was) too caught up in itself to understand this fundamental problem. If Apple wanted Sony or Microsoft to bend to the will of Apple, Apple would have to pay Sony and Microsoft to spend their time, effort and engineering to retool their console controllers to fit within the MFi certification. In other words, not only would Apple have to entice Sony and Microsoft to retool their controllers, they’d likely have to pay them for that privilege. And so, here we are… neither the DualShock nor does the Xbox One controller support iOS via MFi certification.

iOS 12 and Below

To answer the above question, we have to observe Apple’s stance on iOS. As of iOS 12 and below, Apple chose to rely solely on its MFi certification system to certify controllers for use with iOS. That left few consumer choices. I’m guessing that Apple somehow thought that Microsoft and Sony would cave to their so-called MFi pressure and release updated controllers to satisfy Apple’s whims.

Again, why would either Sony or Microsoft choose to do this? Would they do it out of the goodness of their own heart? Doubtful. Sony and Microsoft would ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” Clearly, for iOS, not much. Sony doesn’t release games on iOS and neither does Microsoft. There’s no incentive to produce MFi certified controllers. In fact, Sony and Microsoft both have enough on their plates supporting their own consoles, let alone spending extra time screwing around with Apple’s problems.

That Apple chose to deny the use of the DualShock 4 and the Xbox One controllers on iOS was clearly an Apple problem. Sony and Microsoft couldn’t care less about Apple’s dilemmas. Additionally, because both of these controllers dominate the gaming market, even on PCs, Apple has simply lost out when sticking to their well-intentioned, but misguided MFi certification program. The handwriting was on the wall when they built the MFi developer system, but Apple is always blinded by its own arrogance. I could see that MFi would create more problems than it would solve for iOS when I first heard about it several years ago.

And so we come to…

iOS 13 and iPhone 11

With the release of iOS 13, it seems Apple has finally seen the light. They have also realized both Sony and Microsoft’s positions in gaming. There is simply no way that the two most dominant game controllers on the market will bow to Apple’s pressures. If Apple wants these controllers certified under its MFi program, it will need to take steps to make that a reality… OR, they’ll need to relax this requirement and allow these two controllers to “just work”… and the latter is exactly what Apple has done.

As of the release of iOS 13, you will be able to use both the Xbox One (bluetooth version) and the PS4’s DualShock 4 controller on iOS. Apple has realized its certification system was simply a pipe dream, one that never got realized. Sure, MFi still exists. Sure, iOS will likely support it for several more releases, but eventually Apple will obsolete it entirely or morph it into something that includes Sony and Microsoft’s controllers.

What that means for the consumer is great news. As of iOS 13, you can now grab your PS4 or Xbox One controller, pair it to iOS and begin gaming. However, it is uncertain exactly how compatible this will be for iOS. It could be that some games may not recognize these controllers until they are updated for iOS 13. This could mean that older games that only supported MFi may not work until they are updated for iOS 13. The problem here is that many projects have become abandoned over the years and their respective developers are no longer updating apps. That means that you could find your favorite game doesn’t work with the PS4 or Xbox One controller if it is now abandoned.

Even though iOS 13 will support the controllers, it doesn’t mean that older games will. There’s still that problem to be solved. Apple could solve that by folding the controllers under the MFi certification system internally to make them appear as though they are MFi certified. I’m pretty sure Apple won’t do that. Instead, they’ll likely offer a separate system that identifies “third party” controllers separately from MFi certified controllers. This means that developers will likely have to go out of their way to recognize and use Sony and Microsoft’s controllers. Though, we’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out in practice.

Great News

Even still, this change is welcome news to iOS and tvOS users. This means that you don’t have to go out and buy some lesser controller and hope it will feel and work right. Instead, you can now grab a familiar controller that’s sitting right next to you, pair it up and begin playing on your iPad.

This news is actually more than welcome, it’s a necessity. I think Apple finally realizes this. There is no way Sony or Microsoft would ever cave to Apple’s pressures. In fact, there was no pressure at all really. Ultimately, Apple shot themselves in the foot by not supporting these two controllers. Worse, by not supporting these controllers, it kept the Apple TV from becoming the hopeful gaming system that Apple had wanted. Instead, it’s simply a set-top box that provides movies, music and limited live streaming services. Without an adequate controller, it simply couldn’t become a gaming system.

Even the iPad and iPhone have been suffering without good solid controllers. Though, I’m still surprised that Apple itself hasn’t jumped in and built their own Apple game controller. You’d think that if they set out to create an MFi certification system that they’d have taken it to the next step and actually built a controller themselves. Nope.

Because Apple relied on third parties to fulfill its controller needs, it only really ever got one controller out of the deal. A controller that’s fair, but not great. It’s expensive, but not that well made. As I said above, it’s the SteelSeries Nimbus. It’s a mid-grade controller that works fine in most cases, but cannot hold a candle to the PS4’s or the Xbox One’s controller for usability. Personally, I always thought of the Nimbus controller as a “tide me over” controller until something better came along. That never happened. Unfortunately, it has taken Apple years to own up to this mistake. A mistake that they’ve finally decided to rectify in iOS 13.

A little late, yes, but well done Apple!

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