Archos suffers from a reputation as a somewhat unimaginative manufacturer, despite its strong growth. Their latest patent, filed in 2010, is about an electronic device (read: tablet) that can accommodate a removable accessory (read: 3G USB key), so nothing earth-shattering there. So it is great that Archos has now come out with a new product, the GamePad, which is in essence a 7-inch Android tablet with controller buttons on the casing, and a claimed innovation on automatic mapping of buttons to controls that would make it compatible with thousands of games from the start. Quite a difference for a wannabe Android portable console.
Archos’ new product will face many competitors, on the 50 millions units Android tablets 2012 market, including spotlight-stealing Samsung and Amazon. In this respect, it all the better that Archos is trying to innovate and, most importantly, is communicating about their great innovation. Except that the patent Archos claims it has in the GamePad press release is nowhere to be found.
Seeing as the press release links the development of the GamePad to the release of Android 4.0 with native controller support for the first time, it is reasonable to assume that this support is what Archos’ mapping technology relies on. If that’s the case, it could mean that a patent might be quite fragile, and more importantly for consumers, that other manufacturers can start offering what are in effect Android portable gaming consoles, like for example the higher-end WikiPad. Either way, it reflects poorly on Archos and on the Gamepad that no one at Archos or at their PR firm will answer any question regarding this patent statement, or give any element allowing to appreciate their underlying tech.
Since the GamePad was presented with this dubious patent claim, it makes one cautious about what remains undefined, like the screen resolution, which hasn’t been a strong suit this far for Archos, while strong-points like the 150€ price tag are touted. Transparency is a trust-gaining virtue when talking to your market, and Archos would have been better inspired to publish a few examples of games on which they tested their controls mapping technology on. This would have given reviewers and customers a concrete sense of how many games would be compatible, and it would have made this product announcement that much more meaningful.
Let’s hope this was a launch hiccup and that Archos will grace us with more concrete elements as the GamePad nears its October launch, and without any major
unverifiable claims this time.