Backbone+ subscription puts app behind a paywall

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A Backbone controller.

Backbone, the iPhone controller Apple should have made, is releasing the biggest update to its app yet. While the bevy of new features are a welcome addition, there’s also a catch – people will start having to pay for them.

The good news is that anyone that has purchased a Backbone controller already and set up the app will have a lifetime subscription of Backbone+, the name of this new “service.” Anyone that picks up a controller from this point forward will get a free year. After that, to continue using the app, customers will need to cough up $50 annually.

What you get — First and foremost, the latest update will allow Backbone controllers to work with more than just iPhones. With a lightning connector and no Bluetooth capability, the Backbone had limited connectivity. But owners will now be able to use a lightning to USB cable to connect their controller to an iPad, a computer, or even an Android device. This feature will be permanent once users update to Backbone+, meaning that a continuous subscription is not required for this feature to work.

The rest of the app, however, will require a subscription, including the revamped games library. Previously, the app had shortcuts within it to any mobile games users had installed on the iPhone, with players able to add new titles to their library with the press of the Backbone button while in-game. The app also featured carousels of titles that were playable via streaming services such as Xbox cloud gaming, GeForce Now, and Stadia.

Now, Backbone+ offers the ability to search for any title on the App Store or across any of those streaming services, with indicators showing the different playable options if a game is offered on more than one platform. If it works as intended, it should provide a much more streamlined experience for gaming on iPhone.

Search on Backbone+.Backbone
Smart recording on Backbone+.Backbone
Using other devices with Backbone+.Backbone
Social reactions on Backbone+.Backbone
The share screen on Backbone+.Backbone
Twitch streaming with Backbone+.Backbone
The activity screen of Backbone+.Backbone

Feature rich — Backbone has partnered with Twitch to utilize their IDGB database of video game metadata to make this possible. The app also now includes a way to beam your gameplay directly from your phone to the popular streaming service, claiming that users can go live in under 10 seconds. Twitch livestreams started from Backbone will also live on other users’ apps, hopefully boosting the viewership of those mobile streamers.

Finally, the Backbone app, thanks to new APIs in iOS 15, can now capture game footage at 60fps, and a long requested feature, the ability to record the last 15 seconds of gameplay by long-pressing the capture button, has also been implemented. iOS 15’s Focus Mode is also now utilized by the software, allowing users to disable any notifications whenever the Backbone controller is connected to their phone.

Big bucks — While Backbone is doing right by its previous customers by giving them lifetime access to its new subscription, it’s hard to know at this point whether it’ll be worth new customers paying for it beyond their first free year. The app may provide the closest experience to offering harmony between the numerous, disparate ways to play video games on an iPhone, but it’s still got a long way to go to make it feel as congruous as a console. It also may never get there, as the app’s biggest hurdle is getting all the companies it relies on for content to play nice.

Without the app, the device itself is still a really excellent choice for tactile controls on iPhone, but the synchronicity between the two is what gives it the edge over the competition. The team behind Backbone plans to continue improving and adding new features to the app, while offering incentives like exclusive in-game cosmetics to justify its subscription cost, so hopefully one day, Backbone+ becomes the mobile gaming paradise it is striving toward.