In today's digital age, it sometimes feels like hardware to take back the backbone of the software that drives our devices. Button of the month is a monthly view of what some of those buttons and switches are like on old and new devices, and aims to appreciate the way we communicate with our devices on a physical, tactile level.
As a way to control video games, the touchpad of the DualShock 4 on the PlayStation 4 is a failure.
Sony has long used the PlayStation Controller as a place for innovation. Some of these ideas are stuck, like rolling and a double analog stick. Others, like the disastrous six-axis PS3 controls, were major failures, used by the launch titles, and then quickly faded away.
And while many of the Sony accessories made with the DualShock 4 – like a light tape and an integrated speaker – are still in use today, the touch sensitive interface was one of the first things the developers (and first and third parties) left, despite its prevalence in the early PS4 games like Notorious: Second Son.
A touch bar allows players to control fast-moving games as they would be on the phone, and this is likely to fail because PS4 games are playing while watching TV, not the screen in your hands. Turning your eyes to look at another thing to make sure that you're making the right move to open a door or activate a covert murder simply did not make sense when there were perfectly good buttons and triggers that could do the same with a clearer, tactile efficiency that does not divert attention. That's the same issue that hurts the touchpad of Apple's recent MacBook Pro in a microcosm.
But like many things in life, there were unintended consequences as developers dropped support, and the result was that what was to be the biggest failure of the DualShock 4 was in fact one of its biggest successes. And that's because the touchpad is not just a flat, touch interface: it's also a button. Specifically, a giant, a click button that covers the entire controller, leaving virtually no consumable space in the middle.
And the developers wisely shifted the giant button into the biggest break button in the world, cutting off the small "option" key Sony most likely wanted to fill that role. And in that role shines the touch tape.
Pressing the pause button is not something that needs to be considered or appears to find the right spot of the controller, because it intends to have almost any other control device. Because pushing a pause is usually not a deliberate action – it's something urgent, because something in the real world requires your output from the virtual.
It should be great and easy: pressing the emergency red button will knock because the knock on your pizza knocks or your phone rings or your roommate just started yelling, because something that cooked it just burned in the flames. The Touchpad is practically perfect for this: large, pressure from all sides of the controller, and it's impossible to miss.
And who knows? Maybe Sony is already patented touchscreen the controller can finally perfect the touchpad. Only until he gets rid of the button.