Accessory turns smartphones into hand-held gaming devices

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 12:14pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 12:14pm

The world of gaming is changing. As consoles branch out as entertainment systems and smartphone technology allows gamers to harness improved graphics, the challenge becomes to bridge the gap between the two worlds.

One start-up has found a simple solution of sorts, believing that the only big thing that separates the two is where you place your hands.

Phonejoy is a new accessory that turns smartphones into hand-held gaming devices. It's a portable controller that attaches to phones, allowing gamers to marry the usability of a traditional console set-up with the increasing technology of their mobile devices.

The device was initially developed in 2011 by Martin Kessler and Alexander Moroz, two expats who were living in Guangzhou. As avid gamers, they were impressed by the possibilities of the smartphone, but disappointed by its touch-only controls.

"We were seeing all these amazing 3-D games coming to mobiles, games that were more powerful than many on traditional portable consoles. There had only been the problem of having proper controls," Kessler says.

"Touch controls have never really worked for console games, as they do not provide users with the accuracy and tactile feedback needed when playing demanding, fast-paced games."

After failing to find a suitable smartphone controller at any major gaming store, they bought a simple, off-the-shelf USB controller and decided to hack it. A few months later, nearly every major electronic component was replaced and they had a working prototype that used a PlayStation emulator.

The project was meant to be nothing more than a fun pastime - but after a YouTube video of the prototype went viral, they were barraged by requests to create a commercial product. For many young upstarts, that would've been the end of things, lacking the funding and business acumen to turn that demand into a supply - but living in China has its benefits.

"Working with manufacturers in Shenzhen has actually allowed us to manufacture Phonejoy on a large scale and at an affordable price. This wouldn't be possible anywhere else in the world," Kessler says.

"Hong Kong itself has allowed us to easily create a business around the product. It's easy to set up a business here and, on top of that, Hong Kong has world-class logistics that allow us to ship the product to our end customers at an affordable price."

By mid-2012, more than 2,000 Phonejoys had been sold - but then things went quiet. The company stopped production and a number of copycat competitors entered the market.

But the pair were biding their time: they weren't completely satisfied with their first-generation controller and went back to the drawing board, launching an impressive Kickstarter campaign that netted them almost US$70,000. The result is Phonejoy Play, a new and improved controller launching late last month.

"When we first launched our hobbyist product, we noticed that, although it worked, it wasn't suitable for mainstream use," Kessler says.

"The new Phonejoy is completely different," he explains. "It took us nearly two years of development, because we had to invent the EasySlider, and improve the electronics."

The EasySlider triples the Phonejoy's original length, allowing greater usability and an overall quicker set-up. It's now a 20-second process: slide in your phone, turn it on, and you're ready to go.

There are plans to implement user-based functionality that will turn Phonejoy into more than just a smartphone add-on in the future, Kessler says.

"Phonejoy is all about the user experience. In the next stage of the software, we seek to expand the user side, and facilitate social functions such as commenting on games, and up-voting games.

"We don't just want to build a game controller, but a platform that revolves around serious gaming and improves upon that very experience on mobile devices," Kessler says.