mfilogoI expected we'd see a lot of mobile gaming stuff at E3 this year, as even though mobile still plays second fiddle to all the console and PC gaming stuff at the show, its presence has only been growing year after year. What I didn't expect is the ridiculous number of MFi controllers that would be on the E3 show floor. After the initial announcement of the MFi controller program at WWDC last summer, and the long lead-up to them finally being available later in the year, we really thought that controlling your iOS games with physical controllers would be the next big thing. Well, whether it has to do with the fairly high prices of the controllers that have been released thus far, the spotty build qualities, or that people just plain aren't interested in them, MFi controllers have not taken off like we thought they would.

With that in mind, I didn't really expect to see any MFi controller stuff at E3. Boy was I wrong. So without further ado, here's a rundown of all the MFi controllers we saw at E3, along with our hands-on video and brief impressions of each.

BigBen Interactive's GameGrip and GamePhone Controller Pro - Both of these controllers are already available for Android devices and are compatible with iOS devices via the iCade configuration, but the BigBen representative alluded that proper MFi versions of both are on the way. The GameGrip is especially interesting as it can harness an iPad mini and even a full-size iPad. The smaller GamePhone controller also seemed relatively nice for iPhones or iPod touches, as it felt almost identical to a PlayStation 2 controller just slightly smaller in size.


Hori's MFi Controller - Hori is renowned for their arcade fighting sticks, so I was pretty surprised to see they also have an iOS controller in the works. This is another controller that felt very similar to a PlayStation controller, with dual analog sticks situated in the center. It was a dummy model for display only, but even still it felt quite substantial and of high quality. Pretty much what I'd expect from Hori. They should be announcing more information on this one in the near future.


Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i - This was definitely my favorite MFi controller of E3. The overall build quality felt quite good, but what stood out the most was how great the button presses felt. I really liked the clip-on aspect for iPhone devices, but you could also just unscrew that clip and pair it with an iPad and use it like a normal full-size controller. The only downside is that the two analog sticks felt very loose, with very little resistance. It didn't really affect my ability to play, but it was noticeable. This will definitely be the one I pick up when it launches sometime this year.


Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i Micro - Mad Catz also has a smaller version of their C.T.R.L.i MFi controller, and strangely, its strengths and weaknesses are practically inverted from its bigger sibling. The build quality didn't feel quite as good as the larger C.T.R.L.i, though it definitely didn't feel shoddy either. The button pressing felt decent, but again, not quite up to par with the full-size C.T.R.L.i. However, the analog sticks feel absolutely fantastic on the Micro version, whereas they felt overly loose on the full-size C.T.R.L.i. The smaller size is appealing though, as it's definitely more portable while not feeling hand-crampingly small like the Steelseries Stratus.


Phonejoy Android Controller (Coming to iOS soon) - The demo model of the Phonejoy that was on the show floor of E3 was actually for Android devices only, but there is an iOS version in the works so we decided to get some hands-on time with it anyway since they should be pretty much identical. Build quality-wise the Phonejoy felt good, and it felt really good in use too. The really killer feature here is how the entire thing collapses when not in use. The Logitech Powershell was a neat idea, but it was absurdly long. The Phonejoy is too, at least when it's actually in use, but when it's not it collapses together into a really manageable size.


Razer's Junglecat Controller - The poorly named Junglecat from Razer was just announced last week, and with its slide-out controller design similar to a PSPgo I had really high hopes for it. After playing with an actual unit at E3, I have mixed feelings. The build quality feels slightly above average, though the actual sliding feels really solid. It's the basic MFi controller, so no dual-analog and only single triggers on each side. That said, it works really well with Asphalt 8, which was the demo game it was running. My major gripe with the Junglecat is that it's not very compact for a controller that attaches to your device. It's really thick, and also extends the length of the iPhone. I like using it, I just can't see it being something I would reasonably have connected to my phone and in my pocket at all times.


Signal's RP-One Controller - The Signal RP-One was the first full-sized MFi controller to be announced, way back in January. Many people were turned off by the controllers that cradled the devices like the Moga Ace Power and Logitech Powershell, and a lot of people complained about the small size of the Steelseries Stratus. The RP-One looked to be a good option for those people. After actually trying one out, all I can say is that it feels very vapid. The build quality is OK, though not great. The buttons feel alright, but the d-pad has a very strange depression right in the middle that's off-putting. The analog sticks are also quite flimsy feeling. Functionally it's just fine, but the controller feels entirely generic in every way. I'd say this will be a good option if it's significantly cheaper than other MFi controllers, as it totally gave me the impression of the cheap 3rd party controllers for home consoles.


Steelseries Stratus XL - Unfortunately the unit that Steelseries had at their E3 booth was just a dummy model, but I still got a good feeling for how it will be when it comes out later this year. If you liked the Stratus but didn't like how small it was, this one should please you. It felt very similar to an Xbox One controller in my hands, and has an incredibly pleasant matte finish that feels nice and grippy. It's weird mentioning that as a highlight, but sometimes it's the small things that matter, you know? The Stratus XL felt nice and substantial weight-wise, though being a dummy model it's hard to tell if that's how the final hardware will be or not. My gut feeling tells me that if you're looking for just a standalone iOS controller without any sort of clip-on functionality or cradling, this will be the one to get.


The good news is that, while all the controllers we saw at E3 had their own strengths and weaknesses, everyone of them felt like a step above what's been available thus far. I have yet to see one that feels like the perfect package of build quality, pricing, portability and usability, but it's a great sign that so many companies are still anxious to produce more and more versions of controllers for iOS. While it seemed like the iOS controller craze might have died before it ever really got started, it may just be that it's going to be a slow process before the perfect iOS controller arrives and this whole thing takes off in a big way. Or, maybe it will just remain as a niche accessory. Who knows?

It'll be interesting to see how the rest of 2014 plays out as these newer controllers start arriving. Towards the end of 2013 I felt like 2014 would be the "Year of the MFi Controller." Despite a lull in the first half of the year, after this year's E3 I still strongly believe that's the case. Plus, there's always the rumor of a game-playing Apple TV that could really set things off. I can't wait to see where this all goes.

 

  • Twister

    There are many cool controls but why are they so expensive??? $99 is so ridiculous You can buy an used ps3 control and do the same thing (you need jailbreak)

    • Leguro

      PS3 controller has proven reliability. Works we'll with ios, and feels right to me too.

      • TerriBackettnyt

        before I looked at the check of $8543 , I accept
        ...that...my neighbour woz like they say truley earning money parttime on their
        apple labtop. . there sisters neighbour has done this 4 only 19 months and by
        now cleared the debts on their house and bourt a gorgeous Ford . visit this
        site C­a­s­h­d­u­t­i­e­s­.­C­O­M­

      • SheenaJeetyib

        before I looked at the check of $8543 , I accept
        ...that...my neighbour woz like they say truley earning money parttime on their
        apple labtop. . there sisters neighbour has done this 4 only 19 months and by
        now cleared the debts on their house and bourt a gorgeous Ford . visit this
        site C­a­s­h­d­u­t­i­e­s­.­C­O­M­

    • http://afterpad.com/ Kevin MacLeod

      The PS3 controller is solid, but again, jailbreak only. Official controllers will always appeal to a wider audience, which in turn means more games.

      Good news is, there is a crazy selection coming soon - looking forward to learning more about these things!

    • Dman

      They are all NOT going to be $99. If you actually spent the time watching / reading the videos / articles, you would know that. i.e. The Mad Catz controllers are said to be around $50 when they're released.

      • Twister

        I was talking about the controllers i care, They cost like 99... The others looks like a ps3 or xbox 360 copy, i would prefer to buy a console control than the controllers you are talking about, I always jailbreak my devices so no problem for me, and of course i read and investigate before commenting sooo i said that you need to shut up...

      • brickwalker0

        Lol? TA community is fascinating at times.

      • Dman

        *facepalm* Yes, because you speak for all of the TA community... *shakes head*

      • Twister

        I never speak for all.. When did i said that?

  • DuckyShot

    Yup, I'm getting a white (or red) Mad Catz controller, which they said is to release this month.

  • TechUser2011

    Thanks for the updates. I am puzzled why these companies do not have their gear ready to ship right after E3?? E3 is the perfect time to build hyped, and I'm hyped and ready to buy!

  • GamerFirst1

    I really like the Big Ben Grip for my iPad but taking it out of the case I keep it in would be a pain. The BBG is set up the same way I hold my iPad now. That said the Mad Catz full sized unit will probably be the one I go with if the fix the stick looseness.
    The PhoneJoy for sure has the best design for a collapsible setup.
    All of this assumes they actually make and ship any of them.

  • Holcman

    This is the comparison I was waiting for. This is THE year for iOS controllers; we just need to hope that more games will be made to support them!

  • xander134

    Finally the MFi news we've all been waiting for! This is all excellent. The wide array of controllers means that competition will be strong, driving up quality, while lowering prices. For now, I can't wait for something like the CTRLi Micro, even at an $80+ price point.

    Thanks Eli and Jared for making all the videos and putting together this comparison.

    • Jake7905

      Increased competition is indeed a good sign, as it's the key to getting a "perfect" IOS controller. For a while there, I was nervous interest in IOS controllers might fade. It seems that's far from the case.

  • Jake7905

    While the quantity of IOS controllers has greatly improved, I'm still waiting for the leap in quality to match. Eventually, we'll stop settling for the controller we need, and get the controller we deserve.

  • Chungston

    Cool article. I def want to get a full size controller for my iPad!

  • Tommmy

    Just cover those that cost less than $50. Others are not worth any attention.

    • Joe Welke

      In YOUR opinion.

  • Dman

    These all look great! As I've said before I can't wait for these bad boys to actually get released and thoroughly reviewed by TA!!

  • pinta_vodki

    Wouldn't it be cool if Apple added same controller functionality to OS X? With games surely coming to Apple TV in the future, it would be nice to have a controller that you could use everywhere, including Steam on Mac. Current support for controllers/drivers is abysmal on the Mac.

    • http://www.appfreakblog.com appfreak

      That would be a really good idea and there might be a feasible option (no idea what protocol these MFI controllers use, though). From a consumer point of view it would be a big plus to justify the purchase of the controller

  • rewind

    The point of iDevices is that they have a touchscreen. These controllers defeat the whole purpose. And the majority of people aren't interested in this concept, as sales of the previous iOS controllers and sales of the Wii U have proved.

    • roguewaver

      It's more for niche situations like running emulators - or at least thats where I see the value. I much prefer games that thrive natively on the ios without any on screen virtual buttons, but when emulating real controls are where its at. My iMame on my iPad, for example, is infinitely better to play with the iCade rig. It's not something I drag around but its a huge hit when I have people over or use it as a docking station in the office.

  • PresidentZer0

    iOS gaming wise the e3 sucked

    • SoyGreen

      Let me fix that for you:

      "gaming wise the e3 sucked"

      It was a really dull year. The most exciting thing for me personally was the new Zelda (and mario level creator) for the Wii U - I might actually be inclined to purchase one now!

  • Jean-Claude Cottier

    Cool, may be all this hard work to support MFi that I've invested in my latest game Animal Battle will be worth it. Anyway, I'll keep supporting game controllers in my future games if the controls allow it.

  • HelperMonkey

    It's cool that there is so much interest from so many companies. Competition is good. Especially when it comes to pricing.
    I think this is a net positive for gaming on iDevices. But I do worry that this trend will diminish the perception of the iDevices as capable, stand-alone gaming platforms. Will a perspective buyer with an interest in gaming see an iPad mini as the excellent gaming device that it is? Or will that buyer see it as lacking a vital element that can only be found in a pricey accessory? Will it inadvertently help other devices like the PSP further solidify a perception of being more complete, compatible, and ready-to-go for gaming?
    Also, it's cool to see game developers making games compatible with these controllers, but I hope we never reach a point where a game is dependent on a controller. The best iOS games are those that are "made for touch screens," from conception to development. I'd hate to see that unique symbiosis fade away.

    • bilboad

      I think the availability of iOS controllers will have the opposite effect of what you're concerned about, i.e. it makes it so there are fewer reasons to choose a dedicated gaming device like a PSP.

      I'm a case in point. I'm mostly satisfied with my iPad as a mobile gaming device, but I've still been tempted to get a Vita because I find certain types of games like racing games, platformers, twin stick shooters and some RPGs to be more fun with physical controls. There is still something special about a dedicated gaming device with builtin controls, but if I can buy a controller for my iPad then I'm much more likely to just make do with the iPad. The iPad has the advantage of having a much larger selection of games than the Vita, and also the fact that it's useful for a lot of things other than gaming.

      Sure, some people will get a Vita or 3DS anyway, but I think iOS controllers will only serve to shrink the market for dedicated mobile consoles.

  • I am Error.

    Were any of them iPhone 4S compatible? It's been pretty darn hard finding iOS 7 controllers for my aging phone. Thanks!

  • jeffyg3

    Only thing that I want from that list is the BigBen GameGrip. Would be perfect for my iPad Mini. I just hope the sticks and buttons have quality build