Apple just patented a Vision Pro game controller – or did they?

Apple Vision Pro NBA 2K23
Could the Vision Pro game controller just be... a PS5 controller? (Image credit: Future)

Apple recently published an interesting patent for a "handheld controller" but it might not be the Vision Pro game controller we've been waiting for. In fact, this controller design hints at Apple's plans for gaming on the Vision Pro – or, more correctly, lack thereof.

Here's what we know so far. 

Is this an Apple Vision Pro game controller?

An Apple Vision Pro controller patent diagram

A diagram for a "handheld controller" as seen in an Apple patent document (Image credit: Apple)

On February 29, 2024, Apple published a patent for "Handheld Controller With Charging and Storage Systems" designed for a "head-mounted device," as first reported by the Mac Observer.

According to the patent, the controller would have built-in charging systems similar to those on the Apple pencil. The controller is even designed to potentially attach to the side of a headset magnetically for storage and charging. 

This controller's resemblance to the Apple Pencil may be its biggest problem. One look at the diagram of the controller included in the patent is enough to get an idea of what it's for – and what it's not. It's shaped like an oversized Apple Pencil, not a game controller. 

Judging by this form factor, this controller is most likely designed for productivity tasks, such as drawing on a virtual display in VisionOS. It could also possibly be a supplement to hand tracking for those who prefer physical controls. However, what this form factor is most likely not is a Vision Pro game controller. 

The pencil-like shape doesn't lend itself well to gaming. Apple may still leave the door open for developers to design games with this controller in mind, but that doesn't seem to be its main purpose.

Of course, this is just a patent. Apple may end up never even using this design. However, this does bring up an important question many of us keep wondering: is Apple ever going to pursue gaming with the Vision Pro? 

The strange absence of gaming on the Apple Vision Pro

Gaming on the Apple Vision Pro with a DualSense controller

Gaming on the Apple Vision Pro with a DualSense controller (Image credit: Apple)

It's frankly baffling to me that gaming hasn't been a bigger deal in the development and promotion of the Apple Vision Pro. It almost seems like Apple wants you to do anything but play games on it. That's a strange move considering how powerful the Vision Pro's hardware is. If anything, gaming seems like an ideal way to show off what the Vision Pro can do. 

This new controller patent – distinctly not for a Vision Pro game controller – is yet another sign of Apple's lack of gaming plans. Apple briefly showed someone playing an Apple Arcade game on the Vision Pro using a PS5 DualSense controller in the original reveal trailer. However, this example isn't even true VR – it's just mobile gaming on a larger display. Other than that, gaming has been almost completely absent from details and promos for the Vision Pro. 

There is one potential reason for this: Meta. The most obvious use for a VR headset is gaming, but Meta is securely dominating that niche right now with its Quest headsets. While the Apple Vision Pro has more powerful hardware than the Quest line-up, Apple doesn't seem too keen to challenge Meta in the gaming market. 

Meta Quest 3 headset with controllers

The Meta Quest 3 headset with controllers designed for gaming (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

There's also the matter of the term "VR." Apple has been incredibly careful so far to avoid describing the Vision Pro as a VR headset, instead using terms like "spatial computing." It's fair to say that the Vision Pro is a mixed reality headset, rather than strictly virtual reality. However, Apple's move away from the term "VR" may go beyond that.

Meta's headsets have some mixed reality features, but they are first and foremost VR headsets. When most people think of VR, they think of gaming. So, the Quest headsets have become primarily gaming consoles.

This kind of niche categorization may be what Apple is trying to avoid by distancing the Vision Pro from gaming, which could explain the lack of a Vision Pro game controller and the lack of games in the headset's advertising.

While that makes sense, it's still a shame that a headset as powerful as the Vision Pro isn't getting any cool VR games to take advantage of all its processing power. Maybe one day – when more people can afford to play games on a Vision headset.

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