Around a month ago, in mid September 2023, a large number of confidential documents regarding Xbox’s future plans for their gaming division were accidently uploaded, unredacted, to an FTC website, as part of the company’s bid to acquire Activision Blizzard King.
While Xbox leadership has suggested these documents are out of date, and no longer reflective of the company’s plans going forward, there is still information within them which is worth discussing from an accessibility perspective.
When the leak first happened, we dedicated an episode of this show to discussing Sebille, an upcoming controller redesign planned for summer 2024 which would include among other additions accelerometer functionality, which we discussed the accessibility implications of in terms of potential motion control additions to gaming.
However, one aspect of the leak we didn’t discuss at the time, and I wanted to come back to after some other time-sensitive episodes were out of the way, is the fact that Xbox was seemingly at some point also developing a One-Hand Controller for Xbox consoles.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to take a look at which features it seems set to support, and the evidence to suggest some limitations to its use cases.
So, let’s start by looking at the controller itself, which admittedly we can only do via a pretty low resolution mockup image, as part of a wider Xbox Hardware Roadmap.
The controller, which has an elongated oval form factor, appears to feature a D-Pad, similar in design to those found on more premium versions of the standard Xbox controller. It features an Xbox button at the top, but beyond that details are more difficult to make out. There may be four face buttons below the D-Pad, but I could not say that for certain. There’s also no look at the back of the controller to see whether trigger or bumper buttons exist.
Now, before we go much further, I want to talk a little about what, in a perfect world, I would personally love to see from a one handed Xbox controller offering.
As a gamer with joint pain issues, I really appreciate the Joy-Con controllers for the Nintendo Switch. For any issues the Joy-Cons may have with analogue stick quality or system connectivity, at a base level I really value being able to have my game controls split apart, with my hands resting separately in comfortable positions, rather than needing my hands to be near each other and in front of me. The ability to use a fully featured game controller, split in half with my hands separated, is really useful for me.
However, I don’t think that’s what this One-Handed Xbox Controller is. From what we can see in isolation, the controller appears to lack an analogue stick, and I suspect it also does not feature rear bumpers or triggers. I’m basing this in part on the image render of the One-Hand Controller, and in part on the image next to it on the roadmap, Xbox’s planned Mobile Controller.
If you look at the Mobile Controller, each side of the device looks much more like what I had initially hoped the One-Hand Controller would be. One side features an Analogue Stick and D-Pad, while the other features an analogue stick and face buttons, with a rear bumper (and presumably trigger) visible at the top of each in the render. The fact that these features are visible on the mobile controller, but not the One-Hand Controller, suggests the device is serving a different purpose.
So, if the One Hand Controller isn’t designed for use as a pair, for full 3D gaming, what might it be used for?
Well, the first option is it may be designed primarily to be a TV Remote style input, for users watching streaming TV on their Xbox. I don’t know how likely that is, I suspect that’s not the case, but it’s a possibility.
Secondly, it could be designed to facilitate play of games with more simple controls, such as 2D platformers with no camera controls necessary during play, but that again feels like an unusual focus for a device like this.
Perhaps it contains accelerometer support, like the upcoming Sebile controller, and is designed for motion controlled titles. I can see a world in which Xbox’s Activision Blizzard King acquisition leads to mobile titles focused on motion controls being included to play on your TV via GamePass, and this device might be used to facilitate that?
Lastly, and I personally think most likely, this could be designed as an additional input option for players using an Xbox Adaptive Controller to incorporate into their setup via Co-Pilot mode. If you’re a gamer with reliable use of one hand, who is used to holding a controller while gaming, but finds holding an Xbox controller one handed difficult due to supporting the full controller’s weight from just one side, this could be a way to hold a number of Xbox controller inputs more comfortably, while using external buttons and switches for your other inputs.
Now, it’s entirely possible this One-Hand Controller could come in other form factors, depending on what controls you’re looking to localise in one hand. It could be that there are bumpers and triggers on the back, simply not shown in the render. The controller could have been entirely redesigned since the leaked image was produced, or I could be otherwise off track regarding the controller’s design and function.
Regardless, I find the prospect of an Xbox developed One-Hand Controller to be an interesting one, and I hope the controller is still in the works, and planned for release.
I’d love to hear from folks in the comments if you’ve got any theories about the controller, or any use cases you’d find it useful for as an accessibility device.
For now, if you’re looking to use an Xbox controller using just one hand, other than Xbox Adaptive Controller setups, I can also recommend researching 3D printed mounts, which can help bring more of the inputs on an Xbox controller into reach for single hand usage. While not necessarily cheap, options such as this one linked in the video description can be useful for some gamers to consolidate their controller inputs.