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Tech Friday, April 2nd 2010 at 1:25 am

ThinkGeek: Real-Life iCade is “A Possibility.” Can April Fools’ Dreams Come True?

Of all of the April Fools’ Day jokes that flooded the Internet yesterday, few inspired as much excitement as ThinkGeek’s iCade, an ’80s style classic arcade cabinet to put around the iPad, letting you play games on it with a “Professional grade arcade stick and microswitch buttons rated for 10,000,000 uses.” Too bad it wasn’t real.

SlashGear called the iCade a “fake with real promise.” Engadget editor-in-chief Joshua Toplovsky tweeted out “man, I SO want the iCade to be real!” Waxy said it was “particularly cruel, because it’s an awesome idea that needs to exist.” You get the picture.

Well, we got in touch with the good people at ThinkGeek, who confirmed that the iCade has “been our most posted, tweeted and blogged about product this April Fools,” and while they wouldn’t make any promises and said that making one IRL would pose some technical issues, a real-life iCade is “a possibility.”

Ty Liotta, ThinkGeek senior merchandiser, replied to our inquiries with a level of detail and an attention to second-order issues that suggests that ThinkGeek has put some serious thought into making a real iCade in light of today’s positive response for the fake product:

“We would like to make a real version of the iCade, however there are some technical hurdles that might stand in the way. Apple would probably not approve a MAME based emulator app for the iPad, so we would have to write some code hooks that other developers could use to integrate into their existing game code to support the iCade. This would limit the games available for the iCade. We would have to ensure enough games would be available for the product otherwise it wouldn’t be very marketable. I think we would almost certainly want to improve the ergonomics of the iCade as well. The joystick is really too close to the screen and the angle that you would play at is a bit uncomfortable. However… these are potentially solvable problems. I can’t say at this time for sure whether we will try to make a real version of the iCade or not… but it’s a possibility.”

Granted: There are enough qualifiers in this response that it’s clear that a real iCade is far from a sure thing. Of all of the “technical hurdles” Liotta listed, Apple could itself prove to be the biggest: If iPad apps weren’t so stringently monitored by Apple, a MAME-based emulator would not only be a relative piece of cake for some developer to come up with; it would almost be an inevitability. But without one — the reason Apple would “probably not approve” one is that it might be seen as an encouragement for game ROM piracy, and they have a standing ban on apps that can run “interpretive code” — there really would be a sharp limit on the number of playable games, which would spoil the fun.

Case study: Programmer ZodTTD came up with a bevy of classic game emulators for the iPhone, including “snes4iphone,” “psx4iphone,” and “gameboy4iphone,” but Apple rejected them all. While they’re popular among jailbreakers, it probably wouldn’t be wise for ThinkGeek to create an expensive, handcrafted iPad peripheral that requires users to void their iPad warranties to fully enjoy.

Still: The fact that ThinkGeek still says a real-life iCade is a live possibility is encouraging, and the most exciting part of it all may be that they actually listened to the surprisingly unified positive response to what could have just been another clever throwaway component to so many April Fools’ lists.

Kwame Opam contributed reporting.

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