The world of MFi controllers is still a bit of a crazy one at the moment. The first few months were rough: limited support from games, a dreadful selection of controllers, and even iOS issues that practically ruined the first good controller, the SteelSeries Stratus. Now, time has led to a greater number of games that support MFi controllers to where I have a huge folder full of them, and while the controller selection is full of ones with flaws, there's at least one controller I can wholeheartedly recommend as a great all-around package. Still, MFi controllers are still not a fantastic proposition on iOS.

I would have hoped that by now any game that should support controllers would, but sadly not. Part of this is that despite a standardized protocol, you still hear of developers having issues with individual controllers:

So, developers are wary to add controller support, because it's pretty much a situation like on the PC, where there's all sorts of weird devices to potentially support. But with Apple certification, this shouldn't be happening. It scares off developers from implementing MFi controls, which leads to fewer games getting them, which leads to fewer people wanting to buy controllers, which leads to fewer games supporting them as the audience for controllers is ever smaller...

It doesn't help that the iOS experience isn't perfect – you can't control the iOS system interface with controller like you can on Android. Some kind of controller-friendly mode would help. And an easy list of controller-compatible games, instead of companies having to curate their own, would be quite welcome. Third-party resources exist, but why isn't Apple providing those?

As far as the controller experience goes, I really prefer playing games with the iPhone than the iPad, because you get that kind of handheld console experience when you're playing on a controller with a clip versus with the iPad propped up on a table. HDMI output with an iOS device isn't perfect, because of the way video through the Lightning port is handled, there's some latency. Let's hope iOS devices soon support USB-C, which does native video output. It'd be perfect for gaming. Plus, I'm annoyed at the fact that there's still some form of non-configurable black bars around the screen for HDMI output.

The game selection is solid, but not fantastic, to the point that it still feels like a surprise when a game has controller support. Here's my go-to folder for controller-compatible games on my iPhone, at least the first page:

Controllers Folder

I've got over 50 games with controller support installed, and not counting ones I've uninstalled, there's a good selection of games in there. I can think of man games that would be improved by MFi support – Glorkian Warrior [$2.99] would be amazing with it, for example. At least the Sonic remakes all have them. KinoConsole [Free / $4.99] works well for streaming PC games, and can emulate an Xbox 360 controller with an MFi gamepad, if that's something you want.

For sure, the controller situation is a lot better now than it was a year ago. And perhaps it'll be even better a year from now. But would I call an MFi controller a must-buy for the iOS gaming fan? It's not an essential purchase, you're not quite missing out yet. But you will enjoy your purchase more than ever. But I kind of regard controller support as the new iCloud save support – I'm really happy when it's there, but given the difficulties and possible lack of demand for the feature, I don't blame any developer for not implementing it.

So with that, I now rank the available MFi controllers, from best to worst, based on reputation, feature set, pricing, and my personal experiences:

 

Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i.

I'm apparently so far out of the loop on Mad Catz products that I didn't realize that they started making actually good products at some point. Like, they have a Bluetooth keyboard with a trackpad which supports 4 different pairings that I'm shocked I haven't bought already, because it's basically my white whale of Bluetooth keyboards. And they make a Bluetooth headset I really want that supports low latency audio after my issues with Bluetooth latency on the Turtle Beach i30s, though I'll also need a specific Bluetooth transmitter, I suppose. I have technology problems.

Mad Catz CTRLi

So, it turns out that with this sudden reputation of making feature-packed products, the Mad Catz CTRLi is the best all-around MFi controller you can get right now. It's a jack-of-all-trades controller, but pretty much every other controller is deficient in some significant way. This one uses glossy plastic, but it still feels really good in the hand. The joystick and buttons have a good feel to them, with just enough stiffness to give you precision without feeling too rigid. It turns on and pairs without much hassle. It has an iPhone clip, which some controllers lack. The clip is a bit stiff, and has an interesting design that screws into the top of the controller with a thumb screw. If Apple releases anything bigger than an iPhone 6 Plus, Mad Catz will need to release a new clip. The MOGA Rebel has easily the best clip, but this at least works.

The CTRLi uses 2 AAA batteries for power, as opposed to a rechargeable battery. This might be disappointing if you prefer rechargeables, but if you like just being able to swap out batteries to get a fresh charge, then this is for you. You'll need the CTRLi app [Free] in order to check the battery life remaining, there's no indicator on the controller itself.

Still, above all else, this is probably the safest bet you have for an MFi controller, and at $59.99 (possibly cheaper on Amazon), it's actually one of the more bargain-priced ones.

 

SteelSeries Stratus XL

HGXD2

A perfectly fine full-sized controller option as well, I've enjoyed it whenever I've used it. It too uses batteries, but has AA batteries, perhaps more common than AAAs used in the CTRLi. It also has the joysticks directly across from one another as opposed to being offset. However, the lack of an iPhone clip makes this one hard to recommend over the CTRLi. At least it's something you can find in Apple Stores.

 

Horipad

Horipad

Another controller without an iPhone clip, you'll find a lot of people swear by this one. Hori has a reputation for good controllers, and the d-pad on this one is allegedly incredibly well-made, to the point that I'm willing to put this high up on the recommendation list. The problem is that it isn't cheap at $79.99, and you can pretty much only find it at Amazon. Plus, it comes with a generic tablet stand that will block the bezel on modern iPads. Not that you probably don't have an iPad stand of some sort already, but it's still suboptimal.

 

SteelSeries Stratus

:

StratusHero

The original Stratus and the first Bluetooth MFi controller. iOS 8 wreaked havoc on this little thing, though firmware updates and iOS 8.1.1 solved a lot of the problems that existed with it disconnecting and whatnot. The pairing button on the back is a bit problematic, but I also own a pre-release version that doesn't suport firmware updates like later models, so your mileage may vary.

Really, this is the ultimate portability option, as it's a tiny controller, literally pocket-sized. It's not meant for iPhone at all. It does work well to play games with, I have few qualms with it. It's cramped, but that's just the nature of it being a tiny controller. If you have an iPad, and want something that you can slip into a small pocket in your bag and just leave it there for whenever, this isn't a bad option. If you can nab it cheap (it pops up on flash sale sites from time to time), then it's not a bad choice.

 

MOGA Rebel

MOGA_Bioshock

I'd recommend this one very highly based on my usage with it, if only because it's the perfect controller for iPhone owners. MOGA's been making controllers with clips for a long time now, and their clip more than fits the iPhone 6 Plus. This is because the MOGA Rebel is basically the MOGA Pro Power Android controller without the integrated phone-charging battery, so the clip will fit pretty much anything that's classified as a phone. My old Xperia Z Ultra actually fit in there, no joke.

The d-pad isn't fantastic, but it's good enough to play fighting games like Garou: Mark of the Wolves [$3.99] with it. The joysticks feel loose, but not overly so, you might like the feel of it. The reason I can't really recommend this one all too well is that it was prone to disconnection issues with a large number of games before later iOS versions seemed to fix MFi controller issues. Some games still cause disconnects, though. I do like it, but considering that this one is hard to find new, and the possibility that it won't work with everything, makes me hesitant to recommend it. You can probably nab it for $40-$45 used on eBay, though.

 

Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i.

:

MCB31268_CTRLI_micro_GB_005_lg

This is basically the CTRLi but slightly smaller. So what's the problem that knocks it down the list so far? Well, it has an iPhone clip, but not the same thumb-screw design of the CTRLi. Instead, it squeezes into a little slot on top of the controller. There's a couple of prongs, but they do not matter, as the leverage comes from the center of U-shape. The fit is so tight that you have to put your iPhone in and out with the clip not attached to the controller, lest one of the prongs break. This actually is an improvement on the design, because it makes it easier to remove, because the thing holding the clip to the controller isn't on the prongs. It's terrible, and that clip is as stiff as the full-size CTRLi. It really sinks this controller as an iPhone accessory. Also, the AAA battery slots are in hard-to-remove slots on opposide sides of the back of the controller, as opposed to an easy-to-access compartment.

Other than that, it functions exactly as well as the full-size CTRLi, just with a slightly smaller design. But that's why I'd recommend the original Stratus above this. That is a tiny, out-of-the-way, hyper-portable controller. The Micro CTRLi isn't so small that you're making a significant difference in size over the full CTRLi. And it doesn't even work well with the iPhone. It's the cheapest option you can get, being $10 less than the full-size CTRLi. But seriously, I made that mistake, you won't regret spending the extra $10.

 

MOGA Ace Power

:

KOTOR+MOGAcontroller1

This controller was okay for being the first decent MFi controller. With an array of competent options and larger devices that are incompatible, this makes this controller irrelevant now. It only fits the iPhone 5 models and iPod touch 5th generation, and even then, the sliding joysticks are bad enough that they make playing games on them a miserable affair. The battery charging is slow and will kill the controller's battery life. You could perhaps get a Lightning extender and use this on your iPad, but why do that when actually good controllers exist? This thing is only worth it for free.

 

Logitech PowerShell

:

logitech

Frankly, I don't know why anyone was making a non-extended MFi controller. I don't know if a market for controllers for iOS devices, that also didn't want joysticks, ever existed. It's why everything but the first two MFi controllers has been an extended layout with the analog joysticks and 2 triggers. You can pick this one up cheap on clearance if you really want it, but it's still an iPhone 5 only affair.

There's a few controllers worth keeping an eye on in the future: the Gamevice from Wikipad will be an iPad-only controller, but will bring that sit-back experience to the bigger-screen device. The Wikipad Android tablet with controller attachment was actually really comfortable to play with, so that might actually be promising. We can only hope that future controllers are in the works – one with a rechargeable battery and integrated clip from Tt eSports was allegedly in the works at CES:

And we can only hope that the iOS version of the Mad Catz LYNX 9 is as gloriously ridiculous as the Android version is:

But even if you compare the E3 2015 controllers from this year to last year, it seems like there are fewer in the works. One can only hope that they don't disappear over time. While I'd love for Apple to just release one official controller that developers can target, I suppose we'll have to live with this chaotic world of controllers for just a while longer. But at least the selection is so much better than it once was.

  • Alexythimia23

    I love the steel stratus pad, for me its perfect, all my fingers naturally rest perfect on it and all buttons in reach without moving fingers, i tried moga rebel and logitech but for me personally they did not click with me like the steel stratus. Just downloaded a great app called controller, lists all game controller support games and updates as new ones come, although some games are not on there yet like implosion? Ive not got round to playing yet but i thought it had mfi support? I hope every game that comes out now has mfi as it should be something we see all the time as till many awesome games out there that dont have it.....

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  • Robbie1350

    Is there a controller that supports micromon or evocreo

    • C. Stubb

      Specific controllers don't "support" individual games. The developers of the games have to add controller support themselves.

  • cy@n

    Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i. + Goblin Sword = fantastic gaming experience on iOS
    Just my 2 euro cents ...

  • unlimitedfury

    I bought the MOGA Rebel because it was the only one that would fit my 6 plus. I've been really happy with it. Disconnection issues haven't been near as bad as I heard/thought they would be. I updated the firmware right after I got it, and it made a huge difference. I often have to check if it's connected or not with the MOGA World app but it never drops off during gameplay. The battery life is pretty outstanding when you don't accidentally leave it on for hours and hours too. 🙂

    • http://about.me/wondroushippo Carter Dotson

      Yeah, the 6 Plus does fit in the CTRLi but it's a tight fit. The MOGA at least uses the same clip as their android controllers, and that thing can fit the Xperia Z Ultra, which is on the brink of phone and tablet. The MOGA does have some weirdness to it but I do like it, though the CTRLi is certainly more reliable.

      • unlimitedfury

        I wanted the CTRLi more but was worried about the clip being able to fit. I buy big cases for my 6 plus too. I still may get another one as I am updating Internet speed and plan to use the AirPlay feature extensively with mfi. I bought the adapter but it doesn't quite cut it. Wayward Souls is pretty effin awesome on the big screen!

    • schoolhouse spirits

      I'm pretty sure the moga Rebel has a power save feature built in if its inactive for 15mins. I've been loving my Rebel , feels like a copy of the Xbox controller to me , it's great for the iPhone 6+, and I've never had any disconnection problems. works fine with every mfi game I've tried.. And I play most of the popular games that touch arcade covers. I'm curious which games have problems with the Rebel like the article mentioned,, b/c I haven't run into any issues with any games yet.

      • iAjent

        I have to agree. I chose the Rebel for the built in clip also. I wanted to be able to just throw it in my bag and carry with me everywhere I go. I figured the Mad Catz controller would be too much of an awkward shape (at the very least it LOOKS more awkward).

        So far, I've been very impressed. I can also state that I haven't had any disconnect issues and it plays brilliantly with all the games I've tried it with.

    • BenRoethig

      The Rebel is the controller my brain tells me not to like, yet I can't help but love it. Its got a cheap plasticy feel to it, yet it does't fall apart or give you in came errors. Its very low profile and convenient with the built-in clip. My brain loves the CTRLi. Its built like a tank, yet I always reach for the Moga.

  • Tim Cant

    Big CRTLi fits 6+ fine, no regrets! Plus imagine how much more attractive it makes you to the opposite sex on public transport, BioShock plays great, and the dpad is better than a 360s so Sonic is decent too. Asphalt, Xenoworks... it makes a bunch of iOS games loads better. Metal Slug, tons of the buggers.

    • Brian E

      Them opposite-gendered folk swoon.

  • RHess00

    The only thing I don't like about my CTRLi is the D pad. I don't like that it's pressure sensitive because on a lot of games you have to push pretty hard to get it to register. The joysticks are great though. It really does turn some games into a whole different experience. I'd recommend it to anyone that has $60 to spend.

  • xxAcesHighxx

    I walked away the iOS gaming scene in early 2012 because I'd simply had enough with awful virtual joysticks. I migrated to PS Vita and loved it's physical controls and high end indie titles like Fez, Hotline Miami and Spelunky, but I missed the sheer diversity that the App Store offered.

    Following the emergence of MFI however, I eventually invested in a new iPad Mini 2 and a SteelSeries Stratus earlier this year, and you know what? I've loved every single minute and haven't looked back since! Now I come to think of it, I've barely picked my Vita up since.

    I now adore gaming on iOS once again, and 99% of that is down to MFI controllers. Sure, I would like to have seen a larger proportion of App Store titles offering MFI support by now, but games like Geometry Wars 3, Halo: Spartan Strike, Heroes of Loot, Tallowmere and Wayward Souls, to name but a few, have completely transformed how iPhone and iPad gaming can now be enjoyed.

    As evidenced in Carter's article however, things still aren't perfect. Therefore, here is my MFI wishlist for the coming 12-18 months:

    • Apple to introduce their own first-party controller
    • Apple to clearly annotate each game on the App Store as to whether it supports MFI controllers (just like they do with iPhone 6 optimisation)
    • More new games to offer controller support at launch
    • More devs to patch support to their existing range of games
    • At least 75% of all games with virtual buttons to offer MFI support
    • More controller options for iPad (like the GameVice)

    • unlimitedfury

      I've heard many people suggest that Apple require games to have mfi controller support after six months. If dreams could come true...

  • RelientKSoCal

    I have the Micro C.T.R.L.i. and I haven't had any issues fitting my 6 Plus in the attachment. I can leave the attachment on the controller and fit my phone in no problems. Yes, it's a little tight, but I haven't had to take the attachment off, and I personally haven't felt like it could easily break.
    Controls wise, the input is flawless. I haven't used the regular C.T.R.L.i., but I've really had no complaints about the Micro C.T.R.L.i.

    • RelientKSoCal

      I also don't find the battery compartments difficult to remove.

    • squirpe

      Agreed! Love this controller and works great with my iPhone 6+.

  • NickyNichols

    Is the Moga Rebel hard to find these days? I got mine back in January off the Apple Store app. It was like $70 though.

  • HelperMonkey

    I've always felt like the NEED for a controller indicated that a game was poorly adapted/designed for the touchscreen hardware, or that the hardware was poorly adapted/designed for playing games. I don't want to just surrender to that scenario, and I almost feel like the reliance on controllers for improved gaming could diminish the impetus to innovate in both game design and hardware design. (Also, I'm cheap.)

  • Suanko

    Maybe the TouchArcade team could add an icon on their reviews to indicate if their is a MFI support ?

  • jdmvette

    Horipad user here.

    Great controller and a great iOS gaming experience when using a controller with games designed for it.

  • MartianLM

    Came here yesterday to try and find recommendations for controllers but only saw one comment in a thread about controllers and I wished there were a dedicated post on the subject. Ordered a Mad Catz CTRLi yesterday and then saw this post just now! Massively relieved to see I made a good choice!

  • zergslayer69

    Waiting on the vapor ware game vice for the iPad.

  • vanalau

    Did not try the others but Horipad is really cool, Airplay latency got so much better and playing Crimson Land on the wall is a blast 🙂

    I also have a loads of steam games waiting for Mfi osx support promised like 2 years ago :-((((

    whatever happend to that controller->iphone->mac connection?? sounded rudiculous from the beginning but still waiting :-))))

  • orangecan

    I've had no issues with my moga rebel - I didn't realise they were hard to find tho I got mine on Amazon and a quick search shows you can still buy them on there new

  • Ryan187

    I've just been using my ps3 controller and it works great, but i wish i could find a nice clip for it to hold my 6 plus.

    • bhayes444

      Doesn't Sony sell a clip for their PS3 and PS4 controllers to fit the Xperia Z3 and Z4? If so, I wonder if it will fit other devices too, or if it's just made for their phones?

  • jamesgecko

    "So, developers are wary to add controller support, because it's pretty much a situation like on the PC, where there's all sorts of weird devices to potentially support."

    This hasn't really been true on PC since Microsoft released the XInput specification a decade ago. If a controller is compatible with Xbox 360, it's compatible with almost any controller-enabled PC game released in the last ten years or so.

  • Brian E

    Blows my mind that no controllers have start/select buttons. I guess it wasn't part of Apple's spec, but it makes paring the existing controllers when trying to play emulated games a real pain. Other than that I love my Mad Catz Micro C.T.R.L.i. for controller-enabled iPhone games!

  • Onikage725

    Still patiently waiting for the Gamevice lol

  • Spudboy2012

    I love my Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i. Makes games that I'd given up on for crappy controls, fun to play again.

  • Devon Harrison

    The easiest solution for the best controller(s):
    Step 1) Jailbreak your idevice.
    Step 2) Install "Controllers for All" from Cydia
    Step 3) Play all your favorite games with either a DS3/4 or a bunch of other MUCH better controllers natively and without hastle.
    Step 4) Profit.

    The only other solution I see for the average "jaILBREAKz are bad" user, to solve controllers for iOS, is for Apple to open up its Bluetooth stack so that iOS can naturally pair with DS3/4 controllers. As for myself, I'll just enjoy that feature personally with the rest of the jailbroken community.

  • KYUSS

    Apple need to make their own controller.

  • Design by Adrian

    I wish there were more controllers like the PowerShell that also connected straight to the iPhone - not bluetooth.

    Having its own battery is a plus.

    MadCatz is just too bulky on the commute.

  • http://adamsimmersive.com Adams Immersive

    I'm very happy with my full-size Mad Catz--and the clip even fits an iPhone 6+ WITH case (albeit very tightly). I thought I'd mainly use it with a TV, but the iPhone right on the controller is pretty neat after all. Wayward Souls and Riptide GP2 seem to be my go-tos. (I need to branch out.)

  • Pape Storms

    Would love to see some reviews of controllers that attach to iPads.

  • Puppes

    I just bought the Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i. and i cannot get it to work with Space Marshals, anyone else had any luck?

  • Aaron C

    It's all about the GameVice... that'll finally turn my iPad Mini into a DS Killer!

  • Ryan Merrick

    I have an iPhone 6+ with a big Otterbox case that I don't want to take off to game.

    Will the Mad Catz C.T.R.L.i clip be big enough to hold the 6+ and Otterbox? Or is the MOGA Rebel a better solution for me. HALLP.

  • John Dexter Caunan

    Which controller supports NBA 2k16 on iPhone 6s? Thanks!

  • Adam Stevens

    Gamevice for iPhone is finally out and I'm absolutely loving it. It's transformed my gaming experience on my iPhone 6s plus from something that was a novelty for me (I hate touch screen controls on games that are meant for controllers -- which is almost the only games I really want to play and spent so much money on but have got little use out of until now)
    A year ago I purchased the steel-series stratus for use on my iphone and ipad but it ended up being a miserably cramped experience, so it got tossed in the junk drawer.
    The gamevice has been my iOS gaming savior -- It makes the iPhone feel like it's a designed from the bottom up as a handheld gaming device -- and a top tier one at that, with the vast & ever expanding library of games available. I'd say it blows the competition out of the water , with the exception of maybe the 3DS, which I own as well .. It works flawlessly -- every button has pressure sensitivity from 0-255, which could be a benefit down the road if developers start taking advantage of it . (which is all the more likely considering 3D touch on the new iPhones will be bringing pressure sensitive gaming controls) .. So far all I've found that even recognizes the pressure is a little app called "Horipad" which is basically a game controller status monitor for iOS) ...
    My only very slight complaint is that the analog sticks have thin plastic thumb rests -- it doesn't bother me while playing though, just an aesthetic bummer on such an expensive controller (100 bucks) .. Not a deal breaker by any means though... I've never spent 100 on a controller before but I'll never regret it , it's absolutely worth it to me. (especially considering the 128gb phone is over $1000 and I have a couple hundred dollars in games already) .. Now I'm one of the few people in the world to have the most powerful handheld gaming console in the world and I'm loving every minute of it 🙂

  • DerpusA7-25

    Would any controllers with the clip support an iPhone plus that has a case on it(as in, the phone could go in the case with the case on?).

    • BenRoethig

      They most definitely do. I use both the Moga Rebel and both Madcatz with a lifeproof case on.