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Dualshock 3

7th January 2017

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Introduction

I was intrigued to learn about what lay under the skin of this product for a number of reasons. Firstly, the fact that as a user there is such a direct contact with the ergonomics. Even more so than with a mobile phone given that you don't even look at the product during use but rely purely upon feel and tactile feedback. Secondly, the way in which the controller has become a universal piece of hardware. Considering the design process, it's interesting to think about how you go about designing something where you cannot possibly predict every application. More impressively, it is amazing to see how - until the PS4 - the controller really hasn't changed externally since the original PS One design. This highlights how simply and intuitively the original controller was designed and I'm excited to see what it is that lies inside to allow such a simple product to facilitate such a wide range of applications.

Simple Ergonomics

This controller demonstrates exactly what I believe to be an ergonomic product. We see so many products now such as razors toothbrushes, door handles and drinks bottles that all try to portray an 'ergonomic' form, with complex curves and designated areas for finger placement. The way in which this form is constructed of simple shapes really reflects the beauty of the product and emphasises the idea that it can be so widely used across a huge array of games. Such a simple shape doesn't force the user to position their fingers in any specific arrangement and allows it to sit effortlessly in the hand, moving smoothly as the user switches between buttons and triggers.

Open Wide

I was delighted to find how easy the casing was to remove. Just 5 standard star screws and I could easily remove the casing.

Looking at the intricacies of the injection moulded piece is interesting when we consider how simple the piece appears from the outside. I was slightly surprised to find that it is made from Polystyrene, given the brittle nature of the material. Although, this has been displayed to me before, when controller breakages have occurred after admitted Call of Duty over-reactions where the controller collided with a wall at considerable speed.

The main components - battery, vibration motors, trigger supports and PCB are revealed to us with the casing removed.

Easy removal of the battery reveals the remainder of the PCB. I like the supporting structure for the battery and the fixings that we can see in the custom PCB. Clearly an addition to this model with it being the first to offer wireless capabilities and recharging.

Vibration Motors

Next to come out are the motor and anti centric weights which deliver the vibration feedback to the user. These sit rather nicely inside another piece of the internal support structure. Strange to notice the fact that the left-hand motor has 4 weights when the right only has 1. I'm not 100% sure why this is, but from my own experience, I tend to grip the left-hand tighter and have a looser hold on the right hand - allowing my thumb to move between the 4 button. This may not be the reason, but it would be a nice design touch if it is.

For some reason, I was always intrigued by these vibration motors. I mentioned in my iPhone 5s teardown that ever since I first used a Playstation controller with a transparent shell, I found it interesting and possibly a little surprising to find that this was how the vibration was generated. It was really an early addition to the principal joy that I get from doing teardowns - being able to relate a user experience to the internal components that help deliver it.

Triggers

Obviously, another area that delivers direct feedback to the user is the trigger/button arrangement on the back of the controller. The triggers were an interesting development for the Playstation 3 edition as it allowed the user to control the intensity of an action by the depth of a press - achieving yet another level of control from a simple product.

We can imagine the iterative testing that must have been carried out to achieve an aesthetic and functional feel when we look at how the triggers use both a spring and rubber cushion to deliver the tactile feedback.

Another interesting point to recognise about the spring is the fact that it is wrapped around an axle of the injection moulded part. Quite puzzling to think how this would have been assembled, as the spring must have been wound around this axle rather intricately, by feeding the wire through the opening.

I am quite amazed to find that there is just a single screw that holds all the internal assembly to the front shell of the controller.

Nothing overly complex, but there is something nice about the piece that has been created to hold all the internals in place.

On the reverse, it holds all the connections to the buttons. Showing the simple push button interface required to facilitate a whole world of gaming.

PCB Mainboard

The underside of the board doesn't really reveal much to us but upon flipping it, we see that the analog stick assemblies are actually integrated into the board.

A slightly more complex connection than the push buttons, but understandable when we consider the need to convert multi-directional movement into signals.

Some fairly aggressive prising helps to release the analog stick assembly from the board.

When I get inside the cage and see the spring at the bottom of the stick, I now understand how the clicking function has been built into the analog stick. Hopefully, it is possible to see how the spring acts to give a nice feel and then, upon depression, the casing for the stick pushes down on the button. The action is almost a little crude, but it appears to work.

After picking apart the analog stick, it's actually a lot simpler than first expected. Basically comprised of two sensors that use magnets to translate position to an electrical signal and the majority of the feel is delivered by the spring at the base.

A Familiar Friend

Finally, I tear apart the set up that we know all too well. Quite amazing really, that we are able to become so engrossed in a game that we forget we're even using a controller, yet all these buttons are working overtime to try and respond to our inputs in order to deliver this experience.

Something that I definitely didn't expect to see, was the full-colour lining on each of the buttons.

I've likely mentioned this too many times in this teardown but the way that the feel and feedback are delivered to the user is really what interests me in this product.Here, the way the D-pad uses little spider-like arms to press the connections - retaining a comfortable shape for the user and combining it with that extra leverage to give a better feel.

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Conclusion

What really amazes me about this product is the fact that it has been designed in such a way that it doesn't shout about how good it is or try to be anything it's not. It's beauty truly lies behind it's ability to perform such a complex array of functions whilst retaining the simplicity that allows it to disappear in the user's hand and create a flawless link between their actions and the game.

I feel that the raw nature of the controller may be losing its place in many products as we move into motion sensing technologies such as Kinect and more recently VR: The goal for gaming development seems to be to fully immerse the player in the game without any controls being necessary. Although this would obviously deliver an unparalleled experience, I think it is important to remember just how immersed we were able to become in a game with just a small number of buttons and a couple of analog sticks. Is this an even greater achievement in user experience design than VR is?

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Copyright © Duncan Pattullo 2017