mfilogoApple's foray into offering official controller support for games on the App Store has been an odd one for sure. They originally announced Made For iOS (MFi) controller support as part of the new iOS 7 at WWDC last June, but like practically all things to do with gaming and Apple, it was announced as almost an aside to the real presentation, just getting a brief mention on a slide. People have been asking Apple to implement some sort of standard controller support for years now, so you'd think that them finally giving into that request would be a bigger deal, but no. Then, things got even stranger as any talk of MFi controller support all but disappeared save for some leaked photos or documents here or there. When iOS 7 finally did arrive in September, and even games themselves began seeing updates with official MFi controller support, there still was no sign of actual controllers or any sort of word from Apple as to what the heck was going on. It was all just very… strange.

Finally, in mid-November, the first actual iOS 7 controllers began to appear. First to market was Moga's Ace Power followed by Logitech's Powershell. Both controllers required the iOS device to be seated inside the unit itself and connected via Lightning, which immediately dampens their usefulness as they'd only work with iPhone 5/5s or 5th generation iPod touch devices. iPad owners were left out. Most recently, SteelSeries released their own controller called the Stratus, and it ended up being the best of the bunch just by virtue of connecting via Bluetooth instead of Lightning. So it could be used with iPhone or iPad devices, though it lacked the device charging functionality of the other two because of it.

ACE POWER 1

Still, all three of those controllers suffered from some serious drawbacks. First and foremost was the cost. All three will run you a hundred bucks, quite a bit more than your average third party controller on other platforms, and even nearly double what a first party controller would run you for the Xbox or PlayStation. The second big issue was the build quality. None of the iOS 7 controllers felt like a piece of hardware that should cost a hundred bucks, and in fact they all felt flimsy in their own ways. The third problem was that, despite iOS 7 and the MFi controller API being available to developers for nearly six months, very few of those developers had actual hardware to test on, so the controller functionality itself fell short of expectations in many games.

So, why is it so difficult for controller makers, developers and Apple all to get on the same page and offer up the type of premium controller experience that gamers have been waiting for? Well, 9to5Mac dug into the situation and talked to several developers and employees of controller manufacturers to get some answers. Part of the problem was that that first batch of iOS 7 controllers was rushed to get them out before the 2013 holiday season.

photo 1-1Beyond that, Apple's own MFi requirements have driven the price up for making these controllers, which in turn drives the price up for consumers. As an example, Apple at this time requires all controller manufacturers to source their pressure-sensitive buttons from a single Apple-approved supplier. If these manufacturers were able to use their own suppliers, they'd likely be able to save some money in the manufacturing process. Coupled with the license fees associated with getting approved as an MFi controller from Apple, it's no wonder these things are in the hundred dollar range.

Another issue is the requirements of the MFi program. In theory, having a standard set of guidelines all controller makers must follow means that developers can offer controller support in their games and know that they will work with the whole fleet of MFi controllers on market. However, some of those requirements just don't make sense or aren't specific enough. As 9to5Mac notes, MFi controllers must contain a circular d-pad as opposed to a "plus-shaped" d-pad or even the d-pad that's separated into four buttons like you'd find on a PlayStation controller. Most gamers would agree that either of those options are far superior to the circular style d-pads (just ask fans of fighting games how they feel about the Xbox 360's d-pad), yet, we're stuck with those circular ones as a requirement.

Another issue is the range of motion of the analog sticks and pressure-sensetive buttons, which some developers feel should be held to a more specific standard. As of right now, the various controllers that are on the market vary in these areas, which means that developers must try to cater their controller support to each one specifically if possible. This sort of thing is exactly why Apple has an MFi program in the first place, but those areas and others sure could use some fine-tuning.

logitech

You really should check out the full feature over at 9to5Mac as they've come across some very interesting information in their report. However, all of this just leads me back to a word we've tossed around a lot in all of our coverage of MFi controllers: potential. There's no holiday to rush for anymore, so I think in 2014 we'll see more controller manufacturers spending the time they need to get their offerings just right. Also, as Apple works more with controller manufacturers and game developers, hopefully they'll loosen the reigns on things like which suppliers manufacturers can use as well as tighten the reigns on things like joystick and button sensitivity. While the MFi controllers that are out there currently are decent enough, I think in time we'll see things get smoothed out significantly, and the world of controlling your iOS games with reasonably priced and well-built controllers will finally see its full–wait for it–potential.

[9to5Mac]

  • CapitainHarlock

    Controllers are like condom. It doesn't feel the same.

    • Kane

      My screen protector feels the same way... I need a controller to feel what I'm really missing.

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  • SpacePenguinBot

    This whole thing has been shoddily handled. All these companies were rushing (and failing) to get their controllers out for the full holiday season. Every controller that has come out so far is overpriced and has a least one other fatal flaw. Here's hoping Apple and the 3rd parties can work out something better for the next round of devices.

    • homosaur

      Apple should have jump started this market by producing a quality first party controller.

      • rewind

        Yes, they should've. But then they'd be killing the whole purpose of a touchscreen, and that would be contradictory to what they've been doing for the last 6 years.

  • http://www.Indieflashmob.com/ Trent

    The circular dpads are to insure support with games that use analog input for movement. This is important because there are two controller standards and one does not have analog sticks.

    On a 4 button dpad there are dead zones on the diagonal so that input is achieved by pressing two buttons at the same time. The issue is that the buttons are also pressure sensitive so unless you can press two buttons with perfectly symmetrical pressure you will consistently drift towards whatever button gets more pressure.

    A circular dpad allows more switches to be placed underneath or at the very least allow for an even distribution of pressure.

  • kiggle

    I just hope Apple persists with this, because this has a lot of potential to really goose developer revenue.

    I used to spend a huge amount of money on the iOS games ecosystem, but in the last couple years I've really slowed down how many games I purchase. The reason is that I just wasn't spending enough time with them to justify the money. I'm interested in an uncompromised experience in genres I enjoy on consoles like action RPG and FPS, but these were just too frustrating with touch controls. I enjoy designed-for-touch games just fine, but I frequently get bored of the genres that touch really caters to.

    So when Best Buy had a sale on the MOGA Ace for $79 (still a ridiculous sum), I jumped on it. Since then, I have spent over $40 on games in the App Store, waaaay more than I normally would even in a holiday season, and I don't regret any purchases except those where the controller support is abysmal (I'm looking at you, Asphalt 8 and Shadowlands).

    Games like Battle Supremacy, featured this week, I never would have considered spending $5 on before. Now it is a no-brainer purchase, knowing that I will be able to spend a few hours a week in bed while the wife watches TV enjoying what feels like a 'real' gaming experience.

    TLDR: Serious games are worth serious money, and if Apple can get the details figured out and work with the OEMs to get prices down, MFi controllers will result in rewarding quality developers with way more purchases than they would have had otherwise, IMO.

  • ap3604

    Why the hell doesn't Apple simply mandate that all games need to have the controller support API built in? Is it really that hard for developers to include?

    Can't believe that Square Enix doesn't include this in any of their good games (Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 1, 2, 3, 4, etc...).

    • SpacePenguinBot

      Controller support simply wouldn't work with many iOS games that are designed for touch.

    • mclifford82

      I love how indignant you are that companies aren't including this feature, when it's been shown no one is buying the gamepads.

      • ap3604

        It takes no money for developers to make a simple update to their app with the game controller API.

        If they did this then more people would be inclined to buy iOS controllers.

      • MrAlbum

        But how could a controller make games like Cut the Rope or Doodle Jump better? Would Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery really benefit from a controller input scheme? Would card games like Ascension or Shadow Era improve from having MFi support mandated from Apple? Would Puzzle and Dragons or 10000000 be better if you didn't have to use the touchscreen?

        I will make an educated guess and say that games not designed for an MFi controller scheme should not be forced into implementing an MFi controller scheme, because that would be antithetical to said games' design philosophies and would be a detriment to the gameplay AND a drain on developer resources. Trying to force every game app to accommodate the MFi API would be a bad idea as a result.

        This does not mean that games that benefit from the MFi controller support do not exist. It is obvious that they do exist, and they have greatly benefited from implementing the API. What I am saying, once again, is that there are games that exist that would suck if they were forced to implement MFi controller support, which is what you recommended. And, it forces developers to spend valuable development time on implementing the MFi API, which could be spent on polishing the developer's game or some other critical task.

        Well, that's my opinion. Take it however you will.

      • n8stowell

        While it doesn't cost anything physically to implement the support, it does take significant time to research and test the support. As mentioned before, most games went through a very long and intensive R&D session to come up with control schemes that work on touch screens. Now all of that has to be completely re-thought through as to how these inputs should be mapped to what buttons. On top of that you have to take into consideration, the different button layouts that you could have. For instance the Logitech controller does not have analog joysticks or a second set of bumper buttons. Now you have to come up with some sort of hybrid combo control scheme to get everything to work. That takes a lot of time and effort, and as they say, time is money.

      • Jean-Claude Cottier

        I'm a dev (Ovogame) and I can guarantee you that it takes time to to convert a touchscreen game into a GamePad compatible one (if even possible). So, it's not true that it doesn't cost any money. My next game will support touchscreen (obviously) but also a full controller support. If integrated during development, the cost is way lower and the result much better. I think there will be more and more great games that support controllers and it will be thanks to all the new device that support controller (MFi but also Android and Android micro-console).

    • homosaur

      Why force developers to support something which has shown no market so far?

  • JJE McManus

    I'm troubled by Apple's requirement to use their authorized suppliers for parts. Though it's understandable from a corporate pov it really seems, from the initial controllers, that these suppliers aren't anywhere near what we would call "Apple quality". The question is does Apple see this and will they take steps to correct it in the coming year.

    • kiggle

      This was by far the strangest and most concerning part of the information revealed on the 9to5mac story. I don't even see how this makes sense from a corporate POV, it's not like Apple is in it for some minuscule kickback, it wouldn't even come close to moving the revenue needle enough to consider.

      • JJE McManus

        Everything in the Apple Store has to complement the Apple a experience. I just didn't expect them to source out to Bennies Button Shak. The article mentions that the mfgs are pushing back with their own suppliers.

  • Eric Ma

    Nintendo has the + shaped d-pads patented and sony has the d-pad cutouts patented. So Apple is avoiding lawsuits.

    • Sgiandubh

      This patent expired in 2005.

      • Sgiandubh

        The Nintendo one I meant.

  • knownquantity

    The price probably also has to do with how many units they expect to sell. Higher margin to compensate for lower sales volume.

  • Mhunt190

    MABEY BECAUSE THERE $99 AND NO ONE WANTS TO PAY $99 FOR A CONTROLLER!!

    • homosaur

      I'd consider it if I saw one with iPad support that wasn't hot garbage.

  • chief78

    Price aside, if Apple doesn't allow the controller manufacturers the ability to leverage their own costs into the product (i.e. Let them go thru their own distribution chains), then I don't see how these manufacturers can continue to support Apple and their MFi endeavor. This really could be their foray into hybrid handheld gaming, and put a dent in Sony an Nintendo's offerings, which really is the only thing keeping the Japanese gaming market from flatlining. Let's hope they see this article and realize "hey, maybe since this was the one thing we mentioned that a lot of our consumers actually gave a &#!+ about, we should throw them a bone.".....we're waiting Apple....

    • MrAlbum

      If only real life was as instantaneous as the Internet wants it to be. XP

  • oddyoh

    What a mess. Hope it gets better going forward. Meanwhile, I've bought a used PSP to tide me over...oh sweet physical controls, how I've missed you so!

  • falco

    Apple should make an iPad and iPhone version for gamer with more power and controller integrated I mean Buttom on the iPad. Problem solve

  • falco

    I imagine the size screen of ipad mini with joystick and button on left and right with a confortable size.

    • falco

      Ouch sorry I made an error.

  • Squablo

    I KNEW IT!!!!!!!! I've been saying this was all Apple's fault from the get go. I had tons of people on this site argue with me about this, and it appears that I was dead on!! I must admit, this is even more crazy than I thought, but it proves my point. These piece of crap $100 controllers are Apple's doing, and not the fault of MOGA, or Logitech, etc.

    I mean, you gotta buy buttons from Apple's special supplier? Give me a break!!!!!! What a joke!!!!

  • Kane

    All this ridiculous info aside, I really like the RP One gamepad. But I still won't pay full price for it. Hopefully I find one on eBay cheaper.

  • jin choung

    $100 is simply a non-starter. wtf are they thinking? goddamn apple, get your head out of your ass and in the game.

  • rewind

    So I feel that this is the one situation where I won't get ridiculed for complaint about the price. $100 is just way too much. A quality Xbox controller costs $60 and is needed to actually play the games. iOS controllers are totally optional and for many people they are simply not appealing. Wasn't the purpose of the touchscreen to not need buttons?

    This failure reminds me of the Wii U in every way. Bad marketing, confusing for casual gamers (which are the majority), many flaws, and unappealing. There's always a "round 2" with controllers whereas Nintendo is screwed, but both of these are failing.

  • Daddy-O-Gamer

    Loving the moga ace. $100 for the shell controllers make sense, because they are also a battery pack. Try playing KOTOR on the 5s in battery alone, you are lucky to get 2 hours. This at least doubles your battery life, or let's you play an extended session without worrying about pluging in.

    Ipad users do have a right to complain. $100 for a Bluetooth controller is a bit steep.

    • 61050

      i had an $80 credit at the apple store

      • 61050

        nevermind, i hit post by mistake and dont feel like finishing my thought now, lol

    • rewind

      I hope you realize that that shell will become obsolete with the iPhone 6.

  • Zenfar

    Maybe the spec is holding back innovation in some way, perhaps somebody should build something more ambitious.

    Or maybe touch is the ultimate interface for mobile & tablets...

  • falco

    Why not allow any kind of controller and also keyboard and mouse this could work too. We could play any type of games seriously on the iPad seriously.

    • rewind

      You can use keyboards and a mouse with an iPad already. Hook it up wirelessly or take one of the clanky ones from the 90's and plug it in.

  • meatz666

    I'm going to be bashed, but I believe this iOS controller should be forgotten. It's so cool to have the entire screen to interact. If you want a game pad, buy a 3DS or Vita. Want a new innovative and creative experience? Buy an iPad. Trying to mash both is an effort that I really don't understand. I'm completely against the homogenization of platforms. Each one should have their special traits.

  • Spore Productions

    @Jared Nielson : the reason they are mandated to avoid a cross shaped d-pad is that Nintendo owns several design patents on this style dpad.

    • G Solid

      I believe the Nintendo's patents have expired, both Sony and MS are using the cross/plus for the d pad now

  • pokaprophet

    Jailbreak, install Controllers For All and use a PS3 or PS4 DualShock. Works flawlessly on MFi supported games.