Ever since the introduction of the iPhone over five years ago, Apple has scoffed at the notion that users need anything other than their fingers to control iOS devices. Apple has never offered a stylus, nor has it built any physical control accessories for its iOS devices, despite many gamers balking at touchscreen-only controls. That hasn't stopped other companies from bringing hardware buttons to iOS, but now we're hearing a rumor that there might be a first party solution in the works.
Buried deep within AnandTech's comprehensive review of the new iPad is a remark that Anand "know[s] of an internal Apple project to bring a physical controller to market, but whether or not it will ever see the light of day remains to be seen." While this is clearly far from a done deal, it would mark a pretty radical strategy shift for Apple. It wouldn't surprise us to learn that Apple has developed prototype hardware controls for iOS over the years, but bringing it to market is a whole different story. Such a move would be an admission that touchscreens aren't the best input method for all situations, something the company has refused to do with its iOS devices over the years.
On the other hand, iOS devices have worked with Apple's Bluetooth keyboards for years now, and if users are going to buy external hardware accessories, Apple would surely prefer users buy its solutions. Such a solution might play nicely with the iPad's AirPlay mirroring to the Apple TV — an iPad with physical controls plus the Apple TV could make for a nice living room gaming setup. That said, we're not holding our breath for this product to hit the market any time soon, but we'll be keeping an eye out for any rumblings of a gaming-focused accessory.