The first official PlayStation-friendly iPhone controller is a Backbone One
Sony has enlisted accessory company Backbone to make a PlayStation-ified version of the excellent Backbone One mobile controller for iPhone that’s available now from 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 pulled open 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, just like the PS5’s DualSense controller. Sure, this is a pricier workaround than strapping one of Sony’s controllers to your phone, but it’s a more elegant-looking way to play PlayStation games via Remote Play, Sony’s mobile app that streams games from your PS4 or PS5 console.
It’s identical in price and design to the all-black 2020 Backbone One that’s still on sale, save for one big change: cross, circle, triangle, and square face buttons in place of A, B, X, and Y to match in-game button prompts you’ll see in PlayStation games on mobile. You can use it to play games on Apple Arcade, Xbox Game Pass, and Stadia, but the button prompts won’t match up with what’s on-screen unless a developer has programmed its game to support PlayStation button icons.
I’ve spent a few hours with the PlayStation edition of the Backbone One, and it’s the same great controller as before, with comfortable grips, a logical button arrangement, good trigger responsiveness, and convenient features like Lightning passthrough charging and a 3.5mm headphone audio passthrough port. Plus, its orange Backbone button doubles as the PS home button within Remote Play when you hold it in.
“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 any of its promises to bring several games from its PlayStation catalog to mobile between now and 2025. So at launch, Sony and Backbone are leaning on this controller as being the most faithful way (outside of just pairing a DualSense to your iPhone) to play PlayStation games from your existing PS4 or PS5 console.
For the uninitiated, Sony’s Remote Play app for mobile lets you jump into your PS4 or PS5 games while roaming around your house. It sounds great, and it is capable of delivering a decent experience. I could load up Tetris Effect: Connected just about anywhere and have a pretty good time while streaming via Wi-Fi at home, which is how I imagine most people may use Remote Play. Now, you can also play Remote Play outside your home via LTE or 5G, too (if this is your first time hearing this news, you aren’t alone) — though fast-paced games like Returnal didn’t play so hot over LTE or even 5G for me. Your enjoyment may vary depending on your Wi-Fi hardware and network coverage.
I can get over Remote Play’s latency, but there are some other persistent annoyances here. Backbone’s orange button can be pressed and held to take you back to the PlayStation 5’s homescreen to switch games, which is great. Though, doing so bypasses the toolbar that lets you easily put the console in rest mode. So, you’ll need to use the iPhone’s touchscreen to pull up the virtual PS home button and navigate to the option, or when manually disconnecting from Remote Play, you can set the console to automatically go into rest mode. That feels a little more annoying than it should be. It’s also bothersome that if you switch away from the Remote Play app — even briefly — you’ll need to reconnect to your console.
One could say that this PlayStation edition of Backbone’s model is Sony’s way of dipping its toe 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.
Releasing this controller is an intriguing move, both for Backbone, a small company still riffing on its successful first product, and Sony, which has entrusted a third-party company to make some very official-looking hardware on its behalf. I wonder if outsourcing this is going to allow Sony to more quickly release mobile games than if it pursued its own mobile controller instead; Sony published patents in late 2021 of a controller that looks like a DualShock 4 split in half. And perhaps, having a bunch of these controllers out there might finally convince Sony to launch a proper cloud gaming service on mobile.
Excited as I’ve made myself thinking of the future, I can’t recommend that current owners upgrade just to get the PS-specific buttons unless you’re a diehard PlayStation fan. Even for diehards, I’d really question just how much you love Remote Play. Right now, Sony’s mobile gaming strategy outside of streaming from your console is non-existent.
Backbone confirmed that this PlayStation edition of the Backbone One will be exclusive to iOS. The company has an Android version of the One in the works, set to release in November.