Why the best iOS game controller is hard to find (but worth it in the end!)

“Why is it so challenging to play popular game titles on my iOS device?” is a very sound question that may have been earshot for mobile gamers in recent years. And while the Android platform enjoys a wide variety of controllers to choose from, finding the best iOS game controller might probably be closer to finding a needle in a haystack.

Personally, I find the lack of visible options for the iPhone or iPad a bit disturbing, especially for a brand and product that happens to be extremely popular worldwide. And it is especially frustrating because the popular titles that have been developed or ported to the iOS platform have control mappings that suit the usual analog stick/d-pad and buttons configuration.. not the tapping and swiping on the device that we’ve grown accustomed to with smartphone gaming.

It is definitely unfortunate. So what is it about iOS gaming that makes it hard to create a quality gaming accessory to elevate it to the levels of the PSP and Nintendo DS?

There are a bunch of iOS game controllers in the market. Why can't there be more?

There are a bunch of iOS game controllers in the market. Why can’t there be more?

 

MFi – Is the quality standard too high to reach?

Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad logoI believe this may be the starting point as we dig around for an explanation.

The Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad Program, or MFi for short, was a licensing program that first saw the light of day in 2005 to provide software and hardware developers with a meter stick for their overall compatibility with an iOS device.

Over the years, this standard has extended far and beyond the capabilities that were required from extended headsets that provide adjustments to audio levels or answering calls – it even included, in the case of this article, accessories pertaining to Bluetooth connectivity or usage of the Lightning port on devices.

To continue, this may be a probable reason for lack of game controller options for iOS devices. It seems like the standards of technical protocol needed to ensure absolute compatibility and usability of accessories would be very challenging. Not that it would not take that much effort to create a controller that leverages Bluetooth connectivity, but there will be a point where some products will be left behind (possibly from decaying input responses that can come from operating system updates).

So is it a bad thing?

I personally think it is not too much of a deal – Apple has always been known to enforce such standards associated with their product offerings. If we were to base it on its thorough review and approval process for application, I would expect nothing less from the hardware/accessories to carry the exact same quality. There may not be an abundance of products, but you can be sure that these controllers work really well with your iOS device.

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What can I play? What else can I play?

So what's there to play?

So what’s there to play?

When Apple announced API support for full-functional controllers back during its iOS 7 days, there was a good amount of hype surrounding it.. Fast forward to now,  and there are over 1000 games on the App Store that have game controller support (this does not count anything jailbreak-related or the use of console game emulators). That’s quite an amazing number in the past 3 years.

If we look at the catalog of titles, however, we will notice the limited number of high-end franchises and games to play. Sure we’ve got the GTA series or LIMBO and Bastion, as well as  number of shooters and racers. What percentage of these titles get downloaded and played with these controllers, though?

iOS game developers are not really at fault here – coming from a game development background with most of it in mobile gaming, I have been aware that games have to be designed and developed with touchscreen controls and device tilting in mind. And when it comes to porting titles, it’s definitely a challenge to apply button mappings to the GUI (graphical user interface).

It probably does not have to be that way, though.

Props go out most especially to developers who push the boundary of mobile game design to take into consideration the use of controllers – perhaps they have had it in their interests to provide support for game controllers as a means of enhancing the gaming experience. When you see the titles I had previously mentioned, you can definitely get the feeling that your best gaming interests are in mind when controller support is provided to these titles because you are provided with the same control mappings from the original consoles – just migrated to a more portable platform in an iOS device.

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Ok, those aside – there are immense advantages to iOS game controllers!

Just like I had said in my article about Android gaming controllers, you can definitely expect the same kind of benefits when you use game controllers for iOS devices. And boy, do these benefits do a whole lot of good!

best-ios-game-controller-sample3The most obvious one would be how these game controllers free up our device’s screen completely. Yes, we would probably still see GUI elements that are meant for touchscreen, but because the gamer does not actively place their fingers on screen allows them to focus more on proper inputs and less on covering parts of the screen because of touch or swipe inputs.

That for me is a big deal – I’ve got long fingers with a decent amount of surface area in my fingertips so the probability of them crowding my display is pretty high. And it’s even more challenging when playing a game in landscape orientation and gripping the controller with both hands because the finger placement isn’t optimal.

With game controllers hooked up to your iOS device, you are assured that your fingers won’t disrupt your display but will instead be given adequate finger placement on buttons.

I would not forget portability and grip, of course – in viewing the available controller catalog, I can definitely say that they all provide a reliable grip on your iPhone or iPad, making sure to prevent either the device slipping off the product or the fingers slipping of the device. Not only that, the way these controllers embrace your peripheral makes it really feel like a handeld gaming device, which is suited for gamers who are mobile or on a regular commute.

 

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So where does that leave us?

In the next few years we are going to see new iOS devices becoming available to the market. These would likely have larger and wider dimensions from their current lineup, so chances are some of these devices would either need some additional work done to accommodate these new controllers or would become unsupported completely.

There is also a large chance that with newer product offerings, we would be presented with a newer version of the iOS. In doing this, most hardware developers would likely have to update their drivers in order for their products to be usable in the newer versions of the operating system.

And as these years come, more and more developers will continue to create games for the iOS – it is still the most competitive category on the App Store, and with newer devices bragging of stronger GPUs and more vibrant graphics, it would be a shame to have to cover it here and there because our fingers would get in the way due to control inputs.

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Personally, I think this is a good challenge – for the manufacturers of MFi game controllers who have done amazing work in the past, they can definitely take solace in the fact that their product has been tried and tested by consumers, and that adapting to future iOS devices will not be foreign to them. With the expectation of these controllers carrying the same MFi standards and quality response, the future is definitely bright for iOS controller makers.

In the meantime, there is definitely a significant amount of mileage for iOS game controllers that are available to the market. I highly recommend checking them out and seeing which ones work best for the games that you like. And at the same time, be sure to check out reviews on the following controllers (with more to come soon!):

A huge shoutout should be given to AfterPad.com for the extensive research and information found there that is of the benefit of iOS gamers out there.

 

Let me know what you think in the comments section!

 


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