Gaming Controllers for iPhone, Would You Want One?

After over three years of the iPhone being on the market, there's still not a great "have to have it" gaming controller accessory. The iPhone, iPod touch, and now the iPad have become serious competitors in the gaming arena and while touch gesture games are awesome in their own right, there's several games that would benefit from having an actual controller.

Apple loathes buttons, we already know this, but hardcore gamers don't. If Apple wants gamers to consider iOS devices as competitive gaming platforms, there needs to be a market for it. That's where Controller or Bust comes in. They're setting out to develop the perfect gaming controller for the iPhone (and I'd assume other iOS devices as well). They're looking for input from the iCommunity and going through the motions of what it will take to get one into production and eventually, to the market.

Benjamin Morisse, who's heading the blog and project is already working towards the biggest challenge - getting into the "Made for iPhone/iPod" program. For those of you unfamiliar, all peripherals that will physically connect to an iDevice have to be approved before going to market. That's why you see the "Made for iPhone/iPod" sticker on some products that you buy. Apple approves of it and doesn't foresee it causing any compatibility issues (or damaging your device when it comes to cases and battery packs).

I remember playing Ravensword quite a bit when it first came out. One thing I really would have liked was an external peripheral that allowed me to utilize the whole screen instead of using the corners of the screen to control my character.

Any of you desperately waiting for an awesome gaming controller? What games do you guys use that you think would be a much better experience with a physical controller? Head over to Controller or Bust and give your input!

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Allyson Kazmucha

Senior editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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Reader comments

Gaming Controllers for iPhone, Would You Want One?


You didn't ask iPad owners, like me, but I'll answer, anyway: yes.
Virtual buttons are tough to stay centered on.

Get a PS3 controller, or very similar, working on the iPad and I will be a very happy gamer.
A similar controller for the iPhone, that also holds the iphone, would also be perfect.

Even a simple four button controller with one or two PSP like joysticks would be great for games with virtual joysticks

Yes!!!! I love FPS games but can't stand them on the iPhone! I hate having my fingers cover part of my view and the movement just isn't the same.

I would like a physical controller. Then I might buy some of the more advanced games that really need more than virtual controls.

HELL YEA!! i would LOVE to be able to see more of the screen instead of my huge thumbs!! GIMMY GIMMY GIMMY!!!! :P

I havent seriously considered iPhone gaming because the lack of tactile feedback from buttons and sticks just ruins it for me. While games like Enigmo and Racing are pretty good, great even, I find that FPS like Call of Duty Zombies calls for a more traditional interface. I still can't get enough of it though.

The GREAT opportunity with this kind of device is the touch input. It enables new games new category of gaming. Think rolando think cut the rope.
Maybe a PC or a ps3 is the better device if it comes to FPS. iOS device have impressive graphics but a crysis like graphic just needs proper hardware. I love touch controlls on my iPhone where it makes sense - but I also love mouse / keyboard movement for real FPS.

That's my biggest peeve as well. I feel like i'm losing viewing area on some games. Certain games are better touch screen, but some just aren't.

Yes, I simple iphone/itouch attachment that both provides controls for the idevice but also converts that Idevice as a control for other idevices (iPad/apple TV) I see a jailbreak app idea.

First of all, I love some of the concepts presented at ControllerOrBust, and a lot of games would be vastly improved with hardware controls. That said, a hardware controller is unlikely to catch fire simply because it is not part of the base system. As an optional peripheral, it presents game developers three choices:

  • Develop for the touchscreen, perhaps sacrificing some control quality in order to reach every iOS customer/device.
  • Develop for hardware add-on controllers only, limiting your market to the tiny percentage, limiting your market to the tiny fraction that has that controllers, and setting yourself up to hemmorage money since Apple will keep their 30% cut when somebody without the add-on clicks buy in iTunes and then demands a refund after purchase.
  • Develop for both hardware and touchscreen control, adding quite a bit of time and cost, and likely diluting the overall control scheme in order to fit both paradigms. At $0.99-$4.99 in sales, I would need to forecast quite a lot of additional sales due specifically to the hardware before I could justify the expense.

Much as some games cry out for better controls, #1 is really the only sane option for the developer. #3 might seem reasonable, but, unless Apple itself blesses a specific hardware device, the game developer has to pick which hardware to back, tying their success to yet another group outside their control. Developers (especially iOS) developers face that quite enough already.
ControllerOrBust's designs look interesting, but they illustrate yet another problem -- the mockups snugly fit an iPhone 4, but what about a 3GS? A 3G? Can they make a design that fits all existing models without modification? Apple marches to their own design drum; when they slightly modify the housing for a CDMA iPhone, and then again for the iPhone 5, does ControllerOrBust need a separate manufacturing runs for each one? Without Apple's explicit cooperation, hardware games might simply be unplayable on new model iPhones until several months after launch, when the third party manufacturer can catch up to Apple.
Until a single controller can demonstrate they can handle these challenges, developers are not going to bother making games for it. Until enough games are in the pipeline, the hardware is not going to have the funding to meet those challenges. It is a classic chicken-or-the-egg problem, and one that really only the platform provider (Apple) can easily meet. I wish ControllerOrBust every success, but it is an almost vertically uphill battle.

^ I couldn't agree more. The second scenario is likely not able to make money and the third likely increases the cost of the game to the point where casual gamers won't purchase I'd they don't have
I'm always intrigued how many times the idea of add-on hardware comes up and they always include the addition of more buttons or physical controllers of one sort or another.
Yet the brilliance of the iPhone is not that it is the best device for any single task but because most of the controls are software based, it can morph and do a good job at so many things.

YES!!!! I would love to hook up a controller to my iPhone to play games. The virtual controller nobs blow. I have passed up a ton of games for that reason. It would be great to play a shooter on the iPhone if there was a controller or even a racing game. This tilting stiff blows.

Is it just me, or was the Wavebird for gsmecube the most ergonomic, responsive, and functional controller for any system ever made? If you don't know what I'm talking about, check it out. It was a wireless Gamecube controller that filled a special part of my heart...

Please!!!' u know it's slot to ask 4 but a controller for the iPhone would be awesome. Make the controller adaptable with an easily manufactured insert so it can be used on a 3GS or 4 and even a future 5

I'd rather have a controller for iOS apps on the Apple TV. But a larger PS3 controller for the iPad would be handy for FPS games.
Or the developer could invest more time in designing a touch screen control that doesn't suck.

This is ace, game controllers for pretty much everything. Soon we will be playing on a game controller to make our breakfast. Hah

Yep- a ps3 styled controller would be the bom.
Its kinda primitive but a magnification lense would be good while the iphone stays locked inside the unit. Externally charged-for big game bouts.
Small sensor to stream the information (possibly infrared or Bluetooth if quick enough) and that way you can happily go nuts moving the controller around while the screen stays still.
Hope my two cents helps,

Yes I'm a iPhone owner and a ps3 owner
I would love a attachment like a ps3 style controller
So I could play FPS games like Nazi zombies
You build it and it will sell it's self.