Sony has hired accessories company Backbone to make a PlayStation-compliant version of the excellent Backbone One mobile controller for the iPhone, available now from Backbone and Best Buy. It exudes PS Vita vibes, except somehow Sony was okay with Backbone keeping its Xbox-like analog stick arrangement. The $99.99 controller, which can be stretched to fit iPhones as small as the 13 Mini and as large as the 13 Pro Max, comes in a new mix of white and black, just like the DualSense controllers of the PS5. Sure, this is a more expensive workaround than strapping one of Sony’s controllers to your phone, but it’s a sleeker-looking way to play PlayStation games via Remote Play, Sony’s mobile app that streams games from your PS4 or PS5 console streaming.
It’s identical in price and design to the all-black 2020 Backbone One that’s still on sale, save for one big change: cross, circle, triangle, and square face buttons instead of the A, B, X, and Y, around in- Game button prompts you see in PlayStation games on mobile devices. You can Use it to play games on Apple Arcade, Xbox Game Pass and Stadia but the button prompts don’t match what’s on the screen unless a developer programmed their game to play PlayStation Key icons supported.
I’ve spent a couple of hours with the PlayStation Edition of the Backbone One, and it’s the same great controller as before, with comfortable grips, a logical button layout, good responsiveness, and handy features like Lightning passthrough charging and a 3.5mm -Headphone audio passthrough port. Also, the orange backbone button in Remote Play acts as a PS home button when you hold it down.
“What PlayStation games on mobile,” you might be wondering? Unlike Microsoft, Sony doesn’t have a robust cloud-based offering for PS Plus subscribers on phones, and we might be waiting a while for Sony to deliver on any of its promises of bringing multiple games from its PlayStation catalog to mobile by 2025 So at launch, Sony and Backbone are leaning towards this controller as the most reliable way (besides just pairing a DualSense to your iPhone) to play PlayStation games from your existing PS4 or PS5 console.
The uninitiated can jump into your PS4 or PS5 games while roaming your home with Sony’s Remote Play mobile app. It sounds great and it is able to deliver a decent experience. I could charge Tetris Effect: Connected almost anywhere and having a pretty good time streaming over wi-fi at home, which is how I imagine most people will be using Remote Play. Now you can play Remote Play outside of your home over LTE or 5G (if this is your first hearing of this news, you’re not alone) – although fast paced games like return didn’t play that hot over LTE or even 5G for me. Your enjoyment may vary depending on your Wi-Fi hardware and network coverage.
I can overcome Remote Play’s latency, but there are some other persistent annoyances here. Backbone’s orange button can be pressed and held to return to the PlayStation 5’s home screen to switch games, which is great. However, this bypasses the toolbar, which you can use to simply put the console to sleep. So you’ll need to use the iPhone’s touchscreen to pull up the PS virtual home button and navigate to the option, or if you’re manually disconnecting from Remote Play you can set the console to automatically go to sleep. This feels a little more annoying than it should be. It’s also annoying that you have to reconnect to your console if you switch – even briefly – from the Remote Play app.
You could say that this PlayStation edition of the Backbone model is Sony’s way of re-entering the world of mobile gaming, much like the launch of its InZone PC gaming monitor to capture a chunk of the PC gaming market .
The release of this controller is an intriguing move, both for Backbone, a small company still working on its successful first product, and for Sony, which has hired a third-party company to make very official-looking hardware on its behalf. I wonder if outsourcing will allow Sony to release mobile games faster than tracking its own mobile controller instead; Sony published patents in late 2021 for a controller that looks like a DualShock 4 split in half. And maybe if you have a bunch of those controllers out there, this might be the case at last Convince Sony to launch a proper cloud gaming service on mobile.
Excited as I’ve made myself think about the future, I wouldn’t recommend current owners upgrading just to get the PS-specific buttons unless you’re a die-hard PlayStation fan. Even for die-hards, I would genuinely question how much you love Remote Play. For now, Sony’s mobile gaming strategy doesn’t exist outside of streaming from your console.
Backbone confirmed that this PlayStation edition of the Backbone One will be exclusive to iOS. The company has an Android version of the One in the works, due out in November.
Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge