When Apple introduced hardware controller support in iOS 7 and now with the release of the first bluetooth connected controller (plus the lightning to HDMI cable that’s always existed), you can now connect the controller to the phone or iPad and plug the cable into an HD TV and you have a console like experience with you phone.
I’ve been working with iOS hardware controllers lately. I’ll be adding hardware controller support to my Platformer Game Starter Kit and so I’ve bought both the MOGA and the Stratus hardware controllers.
The number of games that support controllers is still a tiny subset of the total number of games on the store, but there are quite a few (in the hundreds now, I believe) and the list is growing fast. You can get a list from MOGA here. There’s another list from Stratus here. Hardware controller support is an Apple framework level thing, so if one controller is supported they all are. Neither list is comprehensive. I have personally tested games that aren’t on either list, but work with the controller (Lego Star Wars and Mos Speedrun). I suspect that they don’t update every day and that they are relying on developer to let them know.
However, this new era of portable phone console gaming isn’t really living up to all my expectations (and my expectations are high, my friends). For one, the iOS hardware is all really expensive and yet feels cheap. The MOGA is $80, it feels light and plasticky. The buttons sometimes require more pressure than what I’m used to in order to recognize a press (based on using an Xbox 360 controller for years). I haven’t used the Logitech, so I can speak to its quality, but it’s $100 and doesn’t even support the full control set (no dual thumbstick/only one set of triggers).
The Stratus is the most interesting because it’s the only one that allows you to connect to your TV (the others connect directly into the lightning connector). It’s $80, and is a tiny, tiny piece of hardware. Too small to game comfortably for me. It works OK enough, but for that price I definitely expect more. In some games I feel like there’s some lag when pressing buttons and in other games it seems responsive.
Finally, I own a couple iCade controllers as well. The iCade worked, but there was a noticeable lag when playing games. You’d get used to it, but I had hoped that with the introduction of hardware made to Apple’s specifications, that the responsiveness would leave nothing to be desired.
You can see the MOGA and Stratus (look how tiny that thing is!) on the left and the iCade cabinet (in the back), the iCade mobile and an Xbox 360 (for size reference) in this pic.
So, I found a handful of games that support both the iCade and iOS 7 hardware and did some testing to try and get the feel for how much improvement had been made.
The Stratus did a pretty good job with games like Lego Star Wars and the experience was pretty close to what I’d get playing on a console.
My initial run was with my favorite controller-enabled game, Mos Speedrun. The stratus was pretty disappointing here, the iCade actually did a better job of recognizing a jump press. It made a game that depends on precision unplayable. So, the iCade won that round.
The MOGA worked well with Mos Speedrun, button presses were instant. But, with the MOGA I can’t connect my TV.
Then I played Nimble Quest. It worked well with all the controllers. I only needs to recognize the dpad and they all seemed to perform just fine, including the iCade mobile controller.
A couple games that I played only supported iOS 7 hardware controllers, Lego Star wars for example, played as well with both the lightning connector and the wireless controller.
However, none of the controllers gave me the experience that I feel I’ve been promised. There are many games available on Xbox that are also available on iOS, Walking Dead, the Lego Games, and many others that if the controller support was good, I’d just as soon buy them on iOS so I could both play them on the go and connect to my TV when I’m at home. However, I’d still prefer the responsiveness and feel of my console to what we’ve currently got on the iOS platform. Perhaps the best controller is still in some R&D department and iOS can still live up to it’s promise.