For all the new types of gaming experiences that simply wouldn't be possible without the iPhone's multitouch screen, there are some traditional game types that just don't work as well without real, physical buttons. Anyone who's tried to tap a transparent, on-screen control pad on smartphone platformer, shoot 'em up or fighting game knows that these half-measure touchscreen controls aren't nearly as satisfying as the physical controllers these genres were meant for. While developers have crafted alternative touch-based controls for these games, with varying results, there's no replacing the simple tactile feeling of buttons under your thumbs.
Enter the iCade Mobile, a bluetooth-powered plastic enclosure that slots your iPhone (3G or later) or iPod Touch (3rd gen or later) in between a traditional portable console button layout, complete with a directional pad, four face buttons and four shoulder buttons. The rubberized black casing in the center of the unit provides a snug, secure housing for your iDevice that rotates to click into place in either landscape or portrait orientation, which is a nice touch. Unfortunately, the casing also cuts off access to the buttons and ports on the outside of your iDevice, meaning you have to awkwardly remove the system to adjust the volume, charge it or power it off.
The first thing you'll notice when holding the iCade Mobile is that it's... not very mobile. At 8.5 inches wide (even wider than the oversized PlayStation Vita) and over an inch thick at its deepest point, this is a device that is suitable only for the deepest of cargo pant pockets, or a good sized purse. It works fine for bite-sized home-bound gaming when the TV or PC is otherwise occupied, but I find it hard to imagine anyone lugging this beast along with them just to play improve the controls on some of their iPhone games.