How it works Explore the Xbox Adaptive Controller 2018
The Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC), slated to launch “later this year,” looks almost incomplete at first glance. The clean, confusing-looking slab, nearly the length and width of an Xbox One S, has no joysticks. The usual selection of Xbox inputs has been reduced down to a few menu buttons, a D-pad, and two black, hand-sized pads.
Don’t let the pared-down design fool you. The XAC is one of the most unique and widely useful control tools Microsoft has ever designed, and it seems poised to change the way many players interact with the games they love.
The operative word is “adaptive.” XAC’s potential truly begins with its back-side strip. There, you’ll find a whopping 19 ports, all 3.5mm jacks. No, this isn’t a giant middle finger to the headphone-jack haters at Apple and Google. Rather, these ports see Microsoft connecting with, and loudly celebrating, what has long been an open secret in the world of gaming peripherals: the community of add-on devices designed for limited-mobility gamers.
Oversized buttons, finger switches, blowing tubes, foot pedals, and other specialized inputs have long been built for gamers who can’t hold onto or efficiently use average controllers (gamepads, keyboards, mice). Recent speeches from company heads like CEO Satya Nadella and Xbox chief Phil Spencer have paid lip service to “inclusivity” in computing and gaming, but this device, the XAC, aims to do the trick by connecting niche add-ons to standard Microsoft hardware.
After exploring the ways hospitals, charity groups, and non-profit organizations already help limited-mobility gamers enjoy the hobby (and pay for unwieldy, specialized gear), in 2015 Microsoft’s Xbox research group started an initiative to build an Xbox-branded hub that can bring down costs and frustration for users and caretakers alike. One year later, this skunkworks project received funding and a pathway to become an official Microsoft retail product.
In fact, this project has been hiding in plain sight for over a year. The Xbox Inclusive Tech Lab opened at one of Microsoft’s Redmond campus buildings in 2017, and Ars visited last year under the auspices of an Xbox One X demo and conversation. After that chat, a helpful PR agent’s eyes flashed brightly as I asked about the specialized headsets and pedal-driven rigs against one wall. I’d love to see what these are about, I noted.
Six months later, standing in the same room, that agent’s teammates grinned from ear to ear as they pulled the veil off a table that exposed the XAC—and, crucially, its range of compatible accessories.