The First Generation of iOS controllers were a bit of a mixed bag. Several controllers were announced, but only the direct-connected Logitech PowerShell using the standard API and the Moga Ace Power ever made it to market. While these were solid entries, they were missing some things. First off, they were form fitted for the iPhone 5/5S (and 5C for the Moga). That means they will not work with the 4.7″ iPhone 6, the 5.5″ iPhone 6 Plus, any future iPhone, or any other kind of iPhone. That leads me right into a second concern – they were expensive at $100. Lastly, the games just weren’t there at launch, and those that were might be compatible with the Standard API and not the Extended or vice versa. It was a stew that needed time to thicken and a situation that needed time, from both Apple and the accessory makers, to rethink a bit. This fall, there is a much different situation that may allow for iOS gaming to finally fulfill its promise.
When I reviewed the Moga last year, there was only a handful of MFI controller compatible games. This year, the list is much more extensive as evidenced by this list from SteelSeries. There are racing games like Asphalt 8, Real Racing 3, Ridge Racer: Slipstream, and Riptide GP2; action games like GTA: Vice City 6, BioShock, or Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic; RPGs like Oceanhorn; Sports games like NBA 2K14; and that list keeps growing. Add to that larger screens and you have the recipe for a much more enjoyable experience than was MFI games in 2014. I have to say though, that was pretty enjoyable to begin with. iOS 8 Download Cydia
Round 2: Bluetooth and Bigger
The second generation of iOS controllers started to show up during CES, MWC, and GDC during the first three months of this year. For the most part, they didn’t ship until this fall though. They have one thing in common: Bluetooth. Lightning is gone and for the most part, this a good thing. Bluetooth came with one advance: you’re not saddled with a connector in the center of your controller. This allows you much more flexibility in what devices you use it with, whether they be your iPhone, iPod, or iPad. In theory, it also includes the Mac if the MFi BT-extended controller API is ever implemented in any Mac games. Bluetooth also allows up to 4 controllers to be used on a single device for multiplayer gaming. In fact, Bluetooth iOS controllers have 4 indicator lights for numbering. The second generation also includes a price drop of about $20. This is presumed to be due to Apple dropping the MFi license fee considerably for gaming accessories allowing for more affordable prices. $79 is still a bit steep, but $99 wasn’t going to cut it.
The SteelSeries Stratus is the 3rd MFi controller to hit the market. It came with an almost immediate $20 price drop. While this is a Bluetooth extended controller, like the two physical controllers, it’s less than full size, but full featured. All other controllers on this list, including a second one from SteelSeries will be full size. This makes it very pocketable. With Airplay, it effectively turns your iPad into a game console. The Status is BT-extended with a PlayStation-style layout. You have the D-pad at the top left, control sticks at the bottom, and control buttons in baseball diamond shape. The top buttons are in a slightly unusable arrangement with the L1/R1 each almost half the length of the controller and the L2/R2 moved to the center of the controller. L1/R1 are thin, while the L2/R2 triggers are thick. The design also includes a protective cover that ingeniously doubles as a rear grip. The Stratus won’t charge your iPhone, but will give you 10 hours of gameplay on a single charge.
The SteelSeries Stratus has been shipping most of 2014 for $79.99 and comes in black and white.
SteelSeries Stratus XL
If you like the Stratus, but wanted something a bit bigger, the company also has the Stratus XL. Same features, only in a less portable, but more natural form factor. If you’re coming off of gaming on your PS4 or Xbox and want a little action on the iPad, the Stratus XL won’t require you to readjust to smaller buttons. While most of the controllers use an Xbox-like arrangement, the Stratus XL is actually closer to a Playstation controller with the two analog sticks on the bottom. As of their latest release, the Stratus XL, does not have a clip for carrying your iPhone like the Moga or Mad Catz competitors. Also unlike the competing models, the Stratus XL has a Playstation-style configuration with the two analog sticks on the bottom.
You can pick up the Stratus XL at the Apple Store now for $69.95.
Moga is back for round 2 with its Rebel controller. The design this time isn’t designed to form fit to your iPhone, but instead will feature an integrated adjustable phone clip like their Android controllers. The rebel is the first of the full-size controllers to hit market, being released alongside iOS 8 and the new larger iPhones. Its phone clip can easily fit even the iPhone 6 Plus allowing for up to up to 5.5″ inches of pocket gaming… with phones and iPods. The clip can also hide away and allow you to use it as a standard controller on iPad or on your big screen using airplay to your Apple TV. The one thing it doesn’t do is provide power to your phones. Its internal battery is simply for the controller. Speaking of the controller, it uses the MFi Bluetooth extended API with an Xbox-type configuration of having the D-pad below the left analog stick.
The Moga Rebel costs $79.99 and is available now.
Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i
The C.T.R.L.i is another first. It’s the first iOS controller that is ported from another platform. The C.T.R.L.i is an iOS variant of the C.T.R.L.R controller for its MOJO android game console. With a screw-on travel clip, it also works with Android phones. The C.T.R.L.R itself goes back to Mad Catz’ console line which dates back to the early years of games. Other than the 4-LED display, pause button, and iOS button markings the C.T.R.L.i is practically identical to the C.T.R.L.R. That also includes the phone clip for phone gaming. Its adjustable, but not quite as big as the Moga. The iPhone 6 Plus should fit, but it’s close to the largest phone that Mad Catz can handle. The clip screws onto the phone and is removable if using with an iPad. Unlike the Moga, it doesn’t fold up into the body. The design takes heavily inspiration from the Xbox 360 controller from the layout to the long L2/R2 triggers. It’s not powered by rechargeable lithium ion batteries, but a pair of AAAs, good for 40 hours.
The Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i is $59.99 and is now shipping.
Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i
If you’re looking for something a little smaller, but still with a lot of the features of the Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i? They’re making a Micro version. It’s 20% smaller to be exact. The Micro C.T.R.L.i shares many of its features with the full size version, including the phone clip that should have no problem holding any iPhone phone or iPad touch up to the iPhone 6 Plus. Controls are exactly like the full size version, so I won’t rehash-that. You can also remove the clip and use it with iPad Mini, full-size iPad, or iPad Air. Power is provided by standard AAA batteries instead of an internal rechargeable battery. You’ll get 40 hours of life per pair of batteries as well.
The price is also Micro, $49.99. You can pick it up now.
The Next Step
Given the developments of the Fire TV and Android TV, I couldn’t help but address Apple’s own set top box. Apple to this date has made NO announcements concerning the future of the Apple TV. However, from a technical standpoint, it has basically the same hardware as the current iPod Touch, iPad 2, and the original iPad Mini. It also runs what amounts to essentially a version of iOS skinned for the living room. If Apple, were to add a games store like Google and Amazon, these Bluetooth controllers should be compatible. With the iPhone event past, you could (not will) see something at the presumed iPad event in October. If anything comes about with the Apple TV and gaming we’ll let you know. That being said, just because Apple could do something, it doesn’t mean they will. We’ll see how this next chapter evolves.