Back in May, I wrote a quickfire review of sorts of the iCADE, a little arcade cabinet for the iPad. Around the same time, I also turned down two commissions to review the hardware for British magazines, primarily because I believed at the time that the hardware wasn’t reviewable in the traditional sense—the lack of support by third parties meant it was impossible to rate. The hardware was solid, but the only game at the time you could use with it was the mediocre Atari’s Greatest Hits; making that car crash about 20 per cent better certainly wasn’t worth a 75 quid investment, and yet it seemed wrong to massively downrate great new hardware due to poor support.

iCADE support has since grown, albeit slowly. But it was interesting that when I recently interviewed a bunch of major publishers involved in retro-gaming, they remained utterly tight-lipped about iCADE plans. To my mind, it would make perfect sense for Taito, Namco, Capcom and others to support the hardware, but what we’ve instead seen is a handful of indie developers quietly adding iCADE support to their apps. I no longer have an iCADE to hand, but I imagine that mini cabinet with Mos Speedrun or Minotron is probably a great pairing.

What’s most curious, however, is the lack of support from majors might be down to them working on their own systems. TouchArcade last week reported on Atari’s own stick, which strikes me as an odd idea—it’s portrait only (many of Atari’s games aren’t, nor are many of the apps that support iCADE), and a good chunk of the games in Atari’s compilation weren’t originally designed for joystick control, which is part of the reason they never really clicked for me with the iCADE. And earlier today, developer Stuart Carnie linked through to the iNVADERCADE, which looks like a tiny arcade cabinet for playing Taito’s rather poor iPad version of Space Invaders (which scales up the iPhone release in a lazy manner). It’s unclear from the video on the site whether other games will be supported, but even so, as developer Paul Pridham asked:

Is the iPad controller market that lucrative?

I doubt it is, and I very much agree with Carnie’s reply:

I would think one general purpose controller would be ideal. There is no standard SDK by Apple = fragmentation

I’m not really convinced at all by the need for physical controls for iOS games, because the best developers have gotten past that limitation, but I can see there’s a certain niche appeal regarding a ‘traditional’ controller, especially one as cute as the iCADE. What I don’t understand is individual developers releasing ones for their own games, fragmenting an already tiny market, rather than seeking to support a product that already exists and is already generally liked by those who’ve used it. I’d quite like an iCADE, especially if more games supported it; but the last thing I need on my desk is a little row of iPad games controllers, each one only working with a tiny number of titles.