Consultants help Backbone design iPhone game controller

11 January 2023 4 min. read
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As the market for mobile gaming gains momentum, experts from PA Consulting’s Astro Studios have played a role in developing one of the industry’s top handheld devices. The firm was tasked by Backbone with helping to create a controller that could be attached to smart phones – and the resulting product has gone on to become the best selling unit in its field.

Over the last decade, revolutions in the computing power of smart phones – as well as the strength of mobile internet – have enabled gamers to deploy their devices as miniature games consoles. With Xbox and Playstation both launching apps to enable the streaming of content from gaming machinery at home to mobile phones, a new market has been born to help players get the most from their gaming on-the-go.

Smartphone gaming revenue is projected to surpass $100 billion by 2023. Game designers and manufacturers are eager to capture share in this ever expanding, fast-growth market. One example of this is the rapid rise in ‘mobile controllers’ – plug-in frames, which sit around the screen of a phone, while supplying comfortable and durable controls; complete with joy-sticks and buttons. The most popular brand of mobile controller on the market is Backbone.

Consultants help Backbone design iPhone game controller

When Backbone envisioned a new portable gaming controller for mobile devices that would utilise a phone’s high-resolution and tap rich features, the company reached out to Astro Studios, part of PA Consulting, for its famous design knowhow. Astro Studios has helped design dozens of products and brands in gaming, generating billions in new revenues for PA clients, including Xbox, Alienware, and WD Black.

“We had a vision for a device platform that could power the future of gaming, which in our view was centred around mobile. Just as Roku built a business out of bringing all the video services to one place and Sonos did for music, Backbone aims to do so for gaming on mobile devices,” commented Maneet Khaira, CEO, Backbone. “Little did we know that cloud and core gaming on mobile would experience exponential growth, resulting in a groundswell of excitement around this vision.”

During 2020, consumers were trapped at home due to the pandemic. Mobile gaming use surged 63%, as consumers looked for ways to relieve stress and tedium and connect socially. To helpcapitalise on this booming market, PA’s team of consultants partnered with Backbone to create an ergonomic mobile gaming controller that easily adjusts to fit different iPhones – bringing consumer lifestyle insights, gaming and controller design expertise to bear.

“With all projects, we apply a five-step methodology for driving end-to-end product innovation. This enables us to use a structured process to uncover new insights, develop and test the best ideas, and overcome any roadblocks along the way,” said Norio Fujikawa, Executive Creative Director, Astro Studios. “Leveraging deep experience in gaming and controller design, we built working prototypes that we challenged and validated, determining what the final product experience should look like. This team brings everything to the table: a deep understanding of emerging trends, consumer lifestyle design, gaming and hardware design.”

The experts then moved into concept generation, creating sketches and foam core studies to understand form, proportions and sizing. Following on, they provided product and industrial design, start-up strategy, user experience, and overall consumer electronic design and development – enabling the final product of ‘Backbone One’ to launch in October 2020, seizing on huge demand for gaming at the height of the pandemic.

The Backbone One device has since become the number one best seller on Amazon, in the cell phone gaming controllers category – but beyond that, it has also won industry acclaim. After being named a finalist in the Fast Company 2021 Innovation by Design Awards, it picked up a 2022 Red Dot Design Award in the Mobile Gaming Controller Category.

This acclaim helped open up new opportunities to Backbone too. Backbone One is now being bundled with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in its xCloud game streaming service, bringing the controllerto Xbox’s huge audience. Meanwhile, Backbone has worked with Sony to develop the Backbone One: PlayStation Edition – the first official PlayStation-friendly iPhone controller – launched in the summer of 2022.

“The team is unique in that they really know how to break through marketplace noise and create a product that’s super-exciting and sets the industry on notice,” Backbone CEO Khaira said of Astro Studios. “The opportunities that our company is now experiencing are due in part to the exceptional hardware design of our controller.”