Stadia controllers could become e-waste unless Google releases a Bluetooth update

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Enlarge / Ars originally liked the Stadia controller, describing it as “solidly built, with springy, responsive inputs.” It could still be that way without a giant USB cord if Google unlocks all of its Bluetooth capabilities.

Kyle Orland

Google’s Stadia game streaming service will die an almost inevitable death early next year. Google reimburses gamers for the cost of all hardware and game purchases. But, so far, Google is also letting Stadia players have controllers that, despite once costing $70, will soon do less than a $20 Bluetooth gamepad.

Stadia’s controllers have been custom-designed to connect directly to the internet, reducing lag and enabling instant firmware updates and (sometimes painful) connections to smart TVs. There’s Bluetooth inside the Stadia controller, but it’s only used when you’re setting up Stadia, whether that’s with a TV, a computer with the Chrome browser, or a Chromecast Ultra.

The Google Store page for the Stadia Controller states in a footnote: “The product contains a Bluetooth Classic radio. No Bluetooth Classic functionality is enabled at this time. Bluetooth Classic may be implemented at a later date.” (Bluetooth Classic is a more traditional version of Bluetooth than modern low-energy or mesh versions.)

This potential later date can’t be much later for Stadia controller fans. Many cite the controller’s hand feel and claim it as their favorite. They’d love to see Google unlock Bluetooth to make their favorite something more than a USB-only controller and avoid a lot of plastic waste and circuit boards.

“Now if you just turn on Bluetooth on the controller, we could help the environment by not letting them become e-waste,” written Roadrunner571 on one of the many controller-bound threads on the r/Stadia subreddit. “They have created garbage and they owe me at least to do their best within reason to stop millions of otherwise perfectly good controllers from filling up the landfills,” another wrote.

Many have called out Google, if they’re not going to push a firmware update themselves to unlock the feature, to open access to the devices themselves, so the community can do it for them. This is often a tricky scenario for large companies that rely on a series of contract manufacturers to produce hardware. Some have suggested that full refunds give Google more leeway to ignore the limited function of their devices after the shutdown.

You can still plug the Stadia Controller into the USB port on your smart TV, computer, or game console and use it as a controller through a standard HID (Human Interface Device) connection. How-To Geek Reports that it works well on PCs and with Android devices, but not very well on Xbox or Playstation consoles. At least one Github project would have improves Windows function of Stadia controller (as an Xbox controller). A fearless Stadia fan, Parth Shah, had already concocted a “Wireless Stadia“Python hack to make Stadia controller work ‘wireless’: Connected to a phone, then that phone connecting to a Windows PC over Wi-Fi, emulating a standard Xbox controller.

Yet Shah is also active in the Stadia subreddit, ask for his creation to be rendered obsolete: “Not having to go through all this trouble would be so amazing. I hope [G]oogle is doing something about it.”

There is precedent for pushing new firmware towards old business ideas. Valve, creators of the Steam PC game store and assorted hardware connected to it, enabled Bluetooth Low-Energy on Steam controllers right before its Steam Box and Steam Link hardware ambitions crumbled. Valve had something else in mind for them, namely its Steam Link software on other platforms. But Valve has made vapor controllers viable for many other platforms and kept them from ending up in e-waste sorting facilities, at best.

E-waste from abandoned hardware is an area where Google, along with many other big tech companies, is much quieter than it is when it comes to carbon emissions, water emissions, or even food waste. The company’s commitment to creating “A circular Googlestates that the company believes that by “incorporating circularity into our designs from the start, the things created today can become the resources of tomorrow and enable reuse, repair and recovery.”

In this case, it looks like the circularity, in the form of a standard Bluetooth controller, is inside Stadia controllers. Reuse and recovery would be highly appreciated by customers.

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