If anything was going to leak, it was always going to be the controller. Speculation regarding the PlayStation 4’s refreshed input device has been mounting over the past couple of weeks, with the rumours culminating in last night’s leaked image. Sources have since confirmed that the peripheral pictured is real, albeit a prototype subject to alteration. But what can we learn from the first photographic evidence of the next generation, and how will it change the way that we play?

Initially, the device doesn’t appear to be a huge departure from the DualShock 3, but it is packing some interesting additions that are immediately noticeable in the above sneaky snapshot. The touchpad in the centre of the unit has been a subject of discussion for a number of months now, but the LED light on the top of the handset has been largely overlooked in leaked reports.

Its purpose is not entirely clear, but given its immediate comparisons to the PlayStation Move controller, it’s not hard to assume that it may be used for some form of motion tracking. However, we’re not altogether convinced. Sony’s motion peripheral works so well because the orb shape at the apex of the wand allows it to be tracked from almost any angle. The flat bar of the leaked PS4 controller would not allow the same kind of luxury, limiting its use in games. Theoretically, you’d only be able to move the controller up and down, forward and backward, and from side to side – any more complex manoeuvres would block the light from the tracking device.

As such, we’re not entirely sure what the purpose of the addition is, but we do have some theories. While the primary use of the PlayStation Move’s illuminated orb was to track movement, it also worked well as a ‘mood’ piece in selected titles. For example, Need for Speed: Most Wanted included a feature where the light would flash red and blue when you were being chased by police, while Sorcery switched colours depending on your active spell. It’s possible that the platform holder may be using the LED bar to add an additional layer of immersion to games, cycling through colours as you play to give some added context and feedback to your actions.

Just as prominent is the touchpad in the centre of the device. As previously hinted, this has been implemented in place of the ‘Start’ and ‘Select’ buttons, which have either been removed entirely, or relocated elsewhere on the pad. Regardless, the two-point surface’s purpose seems to be a bit of a mystery at this stage. Scrolling through menus and web pages would perhaps feel at home on the interface, but outside of that we’re struggling to think of a compelling use case. Perhaps it will allow you to write and draw messages similar to the Wii U, though the solution doesn’t seem as compelling without the screen for immediate feedback.

There’s no doubt that Sony will encourage its teams to use the touchpad, but it’s going to be interesting to see what they come up with

There’s no doubt that Sony will encourage its teams to take advantage of the feature, but it’s going to be interesting to see what they come up with. Like the PlayStation Vita’s rear touchpad – which has mostly been used for superfluous extras up until this point – we can’t imagine that the surface will be getting a whole lot of support in the years to come. If nothing else, it could add a couple of ‘virtual’ buttons to the unit which may help game designers who are in need of an extra input or two for their game. Reaching over to tap the touchpad to throw a grenade or switch gears in a racing game wouldn’t be particularly offensive, we suppose.

Beneath the touchpad is what appears to be a speaker but, as has been rightly pointed out on forums overnight, it could also be a microphone. If it is an audio emitting device, expect similar uses to the Nintendo Wii remote. Game sound effects could be played out of the controller, bringing a new layer of immersion to the experience, particularly telephone conversations. Alternatively, a microphone could be used for communication online without the need for a headset, or for Siri-esque voice recognition features. Previous games that have experimented with voice commands have largely been flawed, but there’s still plenty of potential for the feature.

Perhaps the most non-descript element of the controller – not even spotted in our initial story – is a small button to the left of the touchpad. It’s likely that this is the unit’s infamous ‘Share’ button, which some recent rumours have cautioned may not exist. There’s never smoke without fire, though, and considering how much we’ve already heard about the social button, we have to imagine that it’s real.

Pushing the input will supposedly allow you to capture screenshots and videos on the fly, which you’ll then be able to share with friends, presumably through the PlayStation Network and third-party channels such as Facebook and YouTube. We already speculated how the ‘Share’ button could be used to dramatically evolve the PlayStation Vita’s excellent LiveArea environment. It’s clear that, if real, the functionality is going to be a big bullet point on the PS4’s features list, and will probably be a prominent topic of conversation during the platform holder’s 20th February press conference.

There are other more subtle elements to the controller that will have an impact on the way that we play games, too. The previously segmented d-pad appears to have been replaced by a design similar to the Vita’s. Furthermore, the analogue sticks have been given ridges, presumably to help with comfort. The whole chassis looks a little bit broader, with the entire top-section of the controller reworked. This is presumably to accommodate the unit’s redesigned triggers, which have been a source of speculation over the past couple of weeks. There are no changes to the famous face buttons, which is hardly surprising.

There’s more of course, that we may not be able to infer from the image. Sony filed a patent for a biometric controller back in 2011, which could still be implemented into the PS4. There’s been no mention of it in recent rumours, but the technology would have a huge impact on the way that we play games, potentially manipulating mechanics based on heart rate and other external factors.

Sony’s likely to show an updated version of the controller during its press conference on 20th February, where we’ll almost certainly get to learn a little more about the device’s functionality and features. In the meantime, though, we want to hear your thoughts. What do you think of the prototype peripheral’s design? Which features are your favourite? What would you change about the layout? Let us know in the comments section and poll below.

What do you think of the prototype PlayStation 4 controller? (35 votes)

Absolutely love it

26%

I'll get used to it in time

37%

It looks ok, I guess

26%

Eww, what is this atrocity?

11%

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