Gaming on your iPad or tablet doesn't mean the screen has to be covered in smudges or fingerprints. There's a cottage industry of iPad gaming joysticks that promise to keep your fingers off your screen while simultaneously offering better control in your favorite arcade-style games. These joysticks work with games that have on-screen control pads or "virtual joysticks," meaning designated spots on the screen where you press your fingers to control movement or actions. (Atari offers an app, available for iPhone and Android, with access to 100 of its classic games, all or most of which should work with these joysticks.) Check out our photo gallery of iPad joysticks, which includes a device that turns your iPad into a mini-arcade machine.
The ThinkGeek JOYSTICK-IT (also pictured top left) was one of the first joysticks for touch screens to hit the market - and is the most true to life. The aluminum joystick, which resembles a chess piece, uses a light suction cup to attach firmly to your iPad’s display without harming it. A disc made out of conductive foam enables the joystick to communicate with the iPad's touch screen. When you push the joystick in one direction or another, the screen understands the movement and issues the command to the game that you want to move or shoot in that direction. The stick works with dozens of games, and on any device with a touch screen, although it’s likely too big for most smartphones.
Available at ThinkGeek.com: $8.99 for one; $15.99 for two
Photo credit: ThinkGeek
The folks at ThinkGeek specifically designed this smaller version of the JOYSTICK-IT for smartphone screens, so iPhone and Android users can get their game on as well. The joystick works with the same principles and is shaped the same as its iPad cousin, but it features a smaller suction cup and disc so you can attach it to your screen without obscuring the view while you play. (Though iPhone is in its name, it works with most Android smartphones too.)
Available at ThinkGeek.com: $17.99
Photo credit: ThinkGeek
The Fling Analog Joystick for iPad from Ten One Design takes a different approach to controlling your touch screen. While ThinkGeek offers a raised joystick like what you'd find in an arcade, the Fling attaches to your screen more firmly and offers a recessed control pad that you rest your thumb on and press in the direction you’d like to move. It’s still a joystick, as in you still move the thumb-pad in the direction you’d like your character to move or shoot, but the profile is lower and the attachment takes a up a little more of the screen (although it’s made of clear plastic, so it won't block your view of the game.) That said, its lower profile and smaller size trades the feel of an arcade cabinet for a bit more portability. The Fling also works with Android and Windows tablets.
Available at TenOneDesign.com: $19.99
Photo credit: TenOneDesign
The Logitech Joystick for iPad looks and feels a lot like the Fling from Ten One Design, and also works on any touch-sensitive tablet. It attaches in the same place on the screen and functions the same way, with a control pad that you rest your thumb on after it’s been firmly attached to your iPad’s display. It’s a little smaller than the Fling, and takes up a little less space, but it offers a coiled spring design for the thumb pad that’s flexible enough to let you press the directional pad firmly in any direction without breaking the plastic. Then, when you let up the pressure, it naturally moves the pad back to the center of the joystick.
Available at Logitech.com: $19.99
Photo credit: Logitech
The iCade from ThinkGeek and ION is not a joystick, but a mini arcade cabinet for your iPad. Just slide your iPad into the iCade and pair the devices over Bluetooth, and your iPad is now an arcade machine. Instead of using the touch screen to play, you get all of the controls you'd expect to see on a standing cabinet, including a joystick for your left hand and control buttons for your right hand. The iCade is compatible with a number of classic Atari games, so you can play Asteroids, Galaga, or Centipede the way they were meant to be played. (Download the free Atari's Greatest Hits app to get Missile Command; more games are available for purchase within the app) The iCade may be pricey, but more supported games appear every day, and it’s a great buy for anyone who loves old school retro gaming. The iCade doesn’t dock or charge your iPad, but it does have space for you can plug the iPad in while you play.
Available at ThinkGeek.com: $99.99; $1 for 3-game packs; $14.99 for all 100 games
Photo credit: ThinkGeek