Before there was ever a leaked Microsoft document illustrating how they were working on video glasses for Xbox, there was a patent report detailing such a development. This time around, a newly published Microsoft patent reveals how they'll be bringing new Virtual Xbox Controls to tablets and smartphones. With Microsoft's Surface Tablet debuting in 2013 with Intel's Ivy Bridge processor, we may very well see Microsoft launch Xbox games for Surface tablets at that time. That would definitely get the adrenalin rushing if they could pull that off. Yet whether it's 2013 or 2014, we know that Xbox gaming is coming to Windows 8 tablets and that's going to pump some excitement into the Windows tablet product line. I'm sure that Microsoft's OEM's are hoping for such a development, because they'll need all the help that they could get in taking on Apple's iPad.
Overview of Gaming Controls on a Tablet or Phone
Portable gaming devices are enjoyed by many users around the world. One type of such gaming device includes both hard button controls, which provide the user with tactile feedback to reinforce correct finger positioning on the control, as well as a touch screen, which enables the user to interact with a game using, for example, a stylus. One drawback of such a device is that the hard buttons take up valuable space in the device, constraining the size of the display, and increasing the size of the housing. Reducing the size of the hard buttons is challenging because small buttons are often difficult for users to actuate, particularly during fast paced game play. Further, in the context of a gaming device that also functions as a multifunction tablet computing device or mobile telephone, dedicated buttons on the front of the device devoted specifically for game play may detract from the usefulness or appearance of the device to those consumers who do not play games.
To remedy this, Microsoft has devised systems and methods for use with computing devices such as their upcoming Surface tablet and/or smartphone that will support virtual controls.
Microsoft's Coming Virtual Controller for Tablets and Smartphones
Microsoft's patent FIG. 1 illustrated below is a perspective view of one embodiment of a computing device 10 showing a virtual controller 14 for a touch sensitive display. The computing device 10 may be configured as a mobile telephone, tablet computer, or other handheld computing device, for example. The computing device may comprise a touch sensitive multi-touch display 12 including a touch sensor configured to detect a plurality of touches of a digit of a user in order to control a virtual controller related to video games.
Typically, the virtual controller is presented in a manner that does not unduly visually interfere with the display of the game display region. In another embodiment, the virtual controller input module may provide aural feedback corresponding to virtual controller inputs through speaker/microphone unit 26.
Microsoft states that the virtual controller input parameters may include a direction, velocity, and/or relative magnitude corresponding to the movements of thumb 18. As a result, in some embodiments, one or more control icons 20 may provide a visual indication to the user of the positioning of the control, which is updated as the user moves his or her digit.
Additionally, one or more control icons may represent one or more virtual controllers and/or one or more ancillary controllers that may allow the user to control different aspects of the game. Control icons may each be one or more of a virtual joystick, a button, a D-pad button, a slider, and any other feature that may be actuated to control an aspect of the game.
For the record, Microsoft specifically clarifies that "in the embodiment illustrated in patent FIG. 1 the virtual controller implements a Microsoft Xbox virtual controller." It doesn't get clearer than that.
Microsoft goes on to state that typically, the virtual controller is presented in a manner that doesn't unduly visually interfere with the display of the game display region. Thus, in some embodiments, no controller icons are provided on the display, to maximize viewable area of a game play region on the display. In other embodiments, control icons may be partially transparent to reveal game play thereunder, or control icons may be presented for a brief period of time and then fade away.
Microsoft's patent FIG. 2 presents a schematic view illustrating software and hardware components of the computing device of FIG 1.
Examples of Microsoft's Tablet Based Xbox Virtual Controls
Microsoft's patent FIG. 3 shown below is a graphical view of neutral position 50 illustrating relative movement for virtual controller of FIG. 1. A user may control the virtual controller by making movements relative to neutral position. Each movement may occur while the finger continues to contact the multi-touch display and may translate as different control inputs which are interpreted by program 36 in different ways. For example, a subsequent movement to position 52 may result in steering a virtual vehicle forward and to the left, whereas a subsequent movement to position 54 may result in putting a virtual vehicle in reverse.
Microsoft's patent FIG. 5 is a graphical view of a thumb up event that may be detected when a user attempts to actuate an ancillary control icon following use of a primary control icon such as the virtual joystick. As shown in FIG. 5, neutral position 50 may be established to control the virtual controller. Once established, the virtual controller input module may detect a "digit up event 58", and further may detect a subsequent digit down position, for example at digit touch 60 within the ancillary control zone 56.
The Ancillary control zone may be configured as a virtual button or a directional pad (D-pad) controller 62, or other user input mechanism. Thus, an ancillary control icon may he displayed in the ancillary control zone that corresponds to the shape of a virtual button, D-pad. By displaying such an ancillary control icon, the virtual controller input module may provide to a user, an indication of a position of ancillary control zone.
Microsoft's patent application was originally filed in Q4 2010 and recently published by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
At the End of the Day
At the end of the day, having Xbox games and virtual controls coming to Windows 8 tablets is great news for Xbox fans – that's for sure! Yet Microsoft knows that it could be a tough year ahead with Sony and Nintendo likely upgrading their game consoles as well. The upcoming Wii U controller, for example, could be a killer app for Nintendo in winning over role playing game fans. Check out this controller video that demonstrates how the Wii U controller will be used in RPG's for inventory, sniper, security camera, door hacking and other modes. This is definitely going to be very cool. And if you're really interested in this technology, you could always check out the new Wii U controller patent here.
And then there could be another headache for Microsoft and one that they likely never saw coming years ago. Yes, we just might see Apple enter the console market sometime in 2013. With Apple's iPad obscenely outselling the Xbox, Microsoft now has to worry about Apple extending iOS gaming through to Apple TV. An Apple patent has already shown us that once Apple's iOS adds NFC capabilities, a game controller for Apple TV is on their roadmap. Additionally, Apple has reportedly lured Robin Burrowes away from heading up Microsoft's overseas XBox Live team and I'm sure that Steve Ballmer is all too aware of these developments translating to trouble ahead.
In fact, during Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference last week in Toronto, Canada, Steve Ballmer vowed that they weren't "going to leave any space uncovered to Apple." They know that even their Xbox gaming platform could be in jeopardy over the next few years and so this patent all but confirms that Xbox gaming will be coming to tablets big time. That's great news for both Xbox gamers and Windows 8 OEM's who definitely need all the help that they could get in taking on Apple's iPad.
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