YC-Backed Flypad Wants To Turn Your iPhone Into A Steering Wheel

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Smartphones have a lot of cool technology built in, from high-res touchscreens to gestural command features, like shaking, rocking, or rolling, and motion sensing via accelerometers. Just as mobile computing is revolutionizing the way we communicate and interact with the world, unsurprisingly smartphone technology is also having its way with gaming.

Since we’re rarely without our mobile devices today, mobile gaming (especially social-mobile) is becoming increasingly popular — but thanks to the wizardry of smartphone tech — a number of intrepid souls are turning back to explore the interactive possibilities between our mobile devices and our hardware — our desktops, etc. The most entertaining example of which would be the ability to transform our smartphones into game controllers.

Joypad, for instance, is transforming iPhones into game controllers for iPads, Macs, and PCs by syncing them over BlueTooth or Wi-Fi, just as Brass Monkey is doing for browser-based games.

Today, a member of the current batch of Y Combinator startups called Flypad joins the group of entrepreneurs looking to game-ify smartphones, albeit with a more specific focus. Flypad transforms the iPhone into a steering wheel for PC racing games, allowing gamers to steer their vehicles of choice in games like Need For Speed: The Run — with their iPhones.

Initially, the team was on a similar trajectory to that of Brass Monkey, in that it offered support for Android and iOS that, through apps and Wi-Fi, linked smartphones to browser-based Flash games. However, the team found that browser-based games attracted a more casual gaming audience that didn’t care quite as much about peripherals (devices connected to a host computer) as more hardcore gamers playing PC racing games. To that point, the newest version of Flypad has seen 7,000 downloads in beta testing and is resonating particularly in international markets, where the cost of buying controllers, steering wheels, and the like, are higher.

Going forward, Flypad has two immediate goals, which are to increase the amount of play-able racing games (and beyond) in its bullpen, as well as rolling out a full set of APIs for game developers, which allow them to easily add the iPhone as an input for their games.

Of course, integrating with existing games is just the beginning, as the team’s eventual plan is to enable a whole new class of games to be developed. Typically, game controllers today are simply just pieces of hardware, but eventually controllers themselves will be running their own complex software, opening up whole new ways of interacting with games.

Some of the other solutions out there today, says Flypad Co-founder Ayo Omojola, tend to have heavy developer focuses up front, but, at the end of the day, gamers don’t play games because of the phone or the novelty of the technology, they play because they love the gameplay or experience of their favorite racing games. So Flypad focused on offering a quick way to preload content into the experience, so that gamers don’t have to worry about the technical side, they can just sit down and play.

So, while they initially offered a browser mechanic that enabled gamers to quickly play on the Web, although HTML5 in progressing rapidly, the gameplay just wasn’t the quality as those Steam games, for example, which is why Flypad is currently offering compatibility with some of the games in the Need For Speed series, DIRT3, Burnout, and Ignite. Certainly, Flypad faces some friction in that it isn’t platform or device agnostic, and the fact that many serious gamers prefer fixed-wheel controllers to something more free-wheeling like a smartphone control; however, at this point Omojola says that the team is focused on killing the experience of PC racing games on the iPhone.

Next, the founding team, which also includes Gaurav Namit and Femi Omojola, plans to actually embed themselves in their users’ living rooms, so that they can better observe the habits of gamers, how they play, what their engagement looks like, etc. But for now they know that opening their doors to other game developers represents the best immediate opportunity for increasing the number of games (and features) that they can integrate with their smart, motion-sensing steering wheel. To do so, the team recently released its Flash API, and is looking to launch its Unity API next.

Of course, in the big picture, it might be easy to see Flypad’s technology as an add-on, but in reality, their smart steering solution is meant to get developers excited about creating games for smartphones, and that in turn, hopefully encourage gamers to follow. What’s more, the real nifty bit of the technology Flypad offers is the ability to provide users with dynamic interfaces on their smartphones, which change in realtime, so that, say, if you’re playing Madden, your playbook only shows up on your phone and not that of your opponent.

The technology around mobile device-controlled has so much potential, and although it’s still fairly novel to most gamers, I’m sure we can expect some cool things out of Flypad as they push forward.

For more on Flypad, check them out at home here and in the intro video below: