iOS 7 game controller support remains a promise unfulfilled: A gamer's lament

Boy, MFi game controller support on iOS 7 hasn't worked out the way I hoped it would. Right now, it's a mess.

When Apple announced MFi controller support in iOS 7 at WWDC last June, I got excited. The iPhone and iPad are tremendously powerful devices and there are lots of great games, but not every game is good with touch screen controls. The lack of tactile response, the obscuring of what's happening on screen, and the sometimes-awkward hold you have to make to grip the device all added up to frustration for me, over and over again.

MFi controller support seemed like a great compromise: gamers who wanted real game controls would be able to get devices that worked. And the fact that support was built in to the operating system meant broad support.

Or so I thought. Five months after iOS 7's release, there's still only a relative handful of games that make use of MFi game controllers. Not to mention a paucity of MFi controllers.

What's more, the controllers that are available are either ridiculously specialized like the MOGA Ace Power and Logitech PowerShell, both designed to turn an iPhone into a handheld game console a la the Sony PlayStation Vita or Nintendo DS. They're also quite expensive expect to spend $70-$100 on one — even more than the cost of a game controller for a "real" console like an Xbox or PlayStation.

I recently put SteelSeries' Stratus game controller through its paces, which I quite like — but I came away feeling that MFi game controller support in iOS 7 is a nice benefit but not a must have, partly because the experience is so disjointed and inconsistent, with it not at all clear as to which games have MFi controller support and which don't.

Apple has to shoulder a lot of the blame here. The company has done a horrendous job of promoting games that have MFi controller support. There's no way to differentiate them in the App Store outside of checking the release notes for individual games. (Kevin MacLeod at AfterPad has assembled a list of MFi controller compatible games to help fill in the blanks — make sure to bookmark it.)

I'm beginning to get the feeling that MFi game controller support is going to be one of those orphaned technologies that Apple just ignores until it withers and dies, sort of lie what the company did with iTunes Ping.

Meanwhile, over in the Android world, we've seen specialized game systems like the Nvidia Shield appear — devices that work with Android software, but transcend the standard smartphone experience all together.

We've seen no such innovation from Apple, which brought us the "funnest iPod ever," right?

I've been carrying the mantle of Apple gaming for decades — I started my first Mac-centric game site back in 1994, and have been watching the business grow, shrink, and change ever since. iOS devices came and soon after the App Store arrived, and at that point gaming exploded on the platform. Games still take up the largest single chunk of the App Store, and represent a huge market and a huge draw for iOS customers.

Why Apple has such half-assed game controller support in iOS 7 is completely beyond my understanding. Making gaming on iOS devices a richer, more compelling experience should be a top priority in Cupertino. Instead, the way it is right now, it feels like a joke.

Peter Cohen