The first official PlayStation-compatible iPhone controller is a Backbone One
Sony has tapped accessories company Backbone to create a PlayStation version of the excellent Backbone One mobile controller for iPhone, available now at Backbone and Best Buy. It gives off PS Vita vibes, except somehow Sony was okay with Backbone keeping its Xbox-like analog stick arrangement. The $99.99 controller, which can be opened to fit iPhones as small as the 13 Mini and as big as the 13 Pro Max, comes in a new mix of white and black, as does the DualSense controller. of the PS5. Sure, it’s a more expensive workaround than tethering one of Sony’s controllers to your phone, but it’s a neater way to play PlayStation games via Remote Play, the Sony’s mobile app that streams games from your PS4 or PS5 console.
It’s priced and designed the same as the all-black 2020 Backbone One that’s still on sale, except for one big change: cross, circle, triangle, and square buttons instead of A, B, X, and Y to match play button prompts you’ll see in PlayStation games on mobile. You box use it to play games on Apple Arcade, Xbox Game Pass, and Stadia, but button prompts won’t match what’s onscreen unless a developer has programmed their game to support icon PlayStation buttons.
I spent a few hours with the PlayStation edition of the Backbone One, and it’s the same great controller as before, with comfortable grips, logical button layout, good trigger responsiveness, and handy features like the Lightning passthrough charging and a 3.5mm headphone audio pass-through port. Plus, its orange Backbone button doubles as a PS home button in Remote Play when you hold it down.
“What PlayStation games on mobile”, you might be asking? Unlike Microsoft, Sony doesn’t have a robust cloud-based offering for PS Plus subscribers on phones, and we may be waiting a while for Sony to deliver on one of its promises to bring multiple games from its PlayStation catalog on mobile by 2025. So, at launch, Sony and Backbone are relying on this controller as the most faithful way (outside of just pairing a DualSense to your iPhone) to play games. PlayStation games from your existing PS4 or PS5 console.
For the uninitiated, Sony’s Remote Play app for mobile lets you get started with your PS4 or PS5 games while walking around your house. It sounds good, and it is able to provide a decent experience. I could charge Tetris Effect: Connected just about anywhere and have a great time streaming over Wi-Fi at home, which is how I imagine most people can use Remote Play. Now you can also play Remote Play outside your home via LTE or 5G (if this is your first time hearing this news, you’re not alone) – although fast games like Return didn’t play so hot on LTE or even 5G for me. Your enjoyment may vary depending on your Wi-Fi hardware and network coverage.
I can overcome Remote Play latency, but there are other lingering annoyances here. Backbone’s orange button can be pressed and held to take you back to the PlayStation 5 home screen to switch games, which is awesome. However, this bypasses the toolbar which allows you to easily put the console into rest mode. So you’ll have to use the iPhone’s touchscreen to pull the virtual PS home button and access the option, or when manually disconnecting remote play, you can set the console to automatically switches to rest mode. It sounds a bit more boring than it should be. It’s also annoying that if you quit the Remote Play app – even briefly – you’ll have to log back into your console.
You could say that this PlayStation edition of Backbone’s model is Sony’s way of dipping back into the world of mobile gaming, similar to the launch of its InZone PC gaming monitor to capture some of the PC gaming market.
The release of this controller is an intriguing move, both for Backbone, a small company still riffing on its first successful product, and for Sony, which contracted a third-party company to manufacture some very official hardware in its name. I wonder if outsourcing this is going to allow Sony to release mobile games faster than if it instead pursued its own mobile controller; Sony released patents for a controller in late 2021 that looks like a split DualShock 4. And maybe having a bunch of those controllers there might ultimately convince Sony to launch a real mobile cloud gaming service.
Excited as I got myself thinking about the future, I can’t recommend current owners upgrade just to get the PS-specific buttons, unless you’re a hardcore PlayStation fan. Even for diehards, I really wonder how much you love remote play. Currently, Sony’s mobile gaming strategy outside of streaming from your console is non-existent.
Backbone has confirmed that this PlayStation edition of the Backbone One will be exclusive to iOS. The company has an Android version of One in the works, which should be released in November.
Photograph by Cameron Faulkner/The Verge