The Xbox 360 controller is arguably the best gamepad you can plug into a PC. We’ve recommended the thing in countless system guides, and I have several of ’em floating between my lab and living room. Microsoft claims to have made 40 improvements to the updated controller shipping with the Xbox One console, and it looks like PC users will benefit… eventually. A Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat that the next-gen controller will get PC-compatible software some time next year.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a more precise time frame for the controller’s Windows support. We do have a sense of the changes that require additional software work, though. In the video below, Xbox Live programming director Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb discusses a number of controller enhancements with Zulfi Alam, the general manager of Microsoft’s Xbox accessory business.
Enhancements like more precise thumbsticks and a crisper directional pad shouldn’t require substantial software changes. However, the controller uses a new wireless protocol that offers 20X more bandwidth and 20% lower latency than what’s available with the Xbox 360 gamepad. You can also skip the wireless connection and plug the Xbone controller directly into your system via its Micro-USB port. The wired and wireless versions of the Xbox 360 controller are separate, so it’s nice to have both connection options covered by a single device.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the new gamepad—and the one that may require the most software work—is its extra layer of force feedback. In addition to a pair of standard rumble motors, the Xbone controller has a couple of smaller ones tied to the triggers. These secondary motors will allow games to adjust the trigger feel for different weapons and vehicles. I’m sure developers will find other interesting things to do with them, as well.
According to Kotaku, Microsoft experimented with a bunch of other controller features, including soft-touch coatings, built-in speakers, an integrated screen, and a form of Smell-O-Vision. Those ideas were all nixed for different reasons, and most of them probably would have added to the effort required to make the controller PC-compatible. Even on a basic level, Microsoft says there’s quite a lot of work involved in getting the Xbone controller to play nicely with existing PC titles. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long for Windows drivers.