There are a number of reasons why you might want to use a controller with your iOS device. Perhaps you often play Apple Arcade games, use an emulator, or you have an Xbox Cloud Gaming (xCloud) membership. In most iOS gaming situations, touch controls are available. However, being able to hold an ergonomic grip can feel far more comfortable, give you more control, and prevents your thumbs from blocking any part of the screen. Thing is, controllers are often rather expensive and not everyone needs one. Here are some things to consider to help you determine whether or not it's worth buying one.
Is it worth it to get a controller for mobile games?
You can choose between mobile controllers that basically turn your iPhone or iPad into a Switch-like device with controls on either side of the screen or you can purchase a more traditional controller that is completely separate. Here are some situations where having a controller is beneficial.
You frequently play mobile games: If you play platformers, open-world games, or anything that requires more control, a gamepad will improve the situation. For instance, Ocean Horn 2 and Monster Hunter Stories on Apple Arcade are better with a controller.
The games you play support controllers: Not all iOS games require a controller. For instance, puzzle games like Candy Crush Saga are usually better played with your fingertips and often don't support gamepads. You can check to see what kind of controllers a game or service supports (if it does at all) and then you'll want to purchase a compatible option.
If you subscribe to Xbox Cloud Gaming (xCloud): Now that Xbox's incredible subscription library is available on iOS, members have access to more intensive games, which often include more intensive menus and controls. An Xbox controller is better suited to handling these tasks, but others can be used as well.
You play online multiplayers: If you're playing online multiplayers and battle royales like Call of Duty Mobile, you'll really benefit from having an actual controller. Controllers not only make your device more comfortable to hold, but they also make it easier to press buttons and access menus. Plus, those well-placed buttons and rubber-tipped joysticks can help you react faster to an opponent's attacks without your thumbs blocking your view.
Best controllers for iPhone and iPad
There are two types of controllers: attached mobile controllers and the more traditional console controllers. Mobile controllers attach directly to your iPhone or iPad, effectively turning them into a Switch-like device with buttons on either side of the screen. Meanwhile, console controllers are separate from the iOS device and were often made with Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, or PC in mind. You'll need to use Bluetooth to connect the two together.
Best attached mobile controllers for iPhone
If you usually play on your iPhone and are looking for a controller that attaches to it then the best choice is the Backbone One. It was specifically designed for iPhones. In fact, there isn't even an Android version. Just slide your phone into position and then both sides of the controller will hold it in place. The included Backbone One software also helps compile all of your games into one place for easy access.
Play your favorite compatible games with a controller that was specifically designed for iPhone.
Get a grip on your iPhone
The second iteration of the Kishi controller provides a far less bulky experience. Easily slide your iPhone into place and then securely play your favorite games.
Best separate controllers for iPhone and iPad
Console controllers are perfect for when you're playing on iPad and they're a great choice for iPhones too. I recommend going with either the Xbox One controller or the PS4 DualShock Controller. There are heated debates over which one is the most comfortable to hold, but it's really a matter of preference. The Xbox One controller does offer better colors and designs, in my opinion.
There are also accessories like the Otterbox Mobile Gaming Clip that allow you to attach your iPhone to the controller for easy viewing.
A Nintendo fan's favorite
Anyone iPhone or iPad with the iOS 16 update can use the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller to play games. It's a comfortable gamepad with ergonomic grip, large buttons, and good joysticks.
A perfect choice
Many people believe that Xbox Controllers are the most comfortable ones to hold. They have good button placement and offer a great ergonomic grip.
A worthwhile competitor
Sony's PS4 controller is also a popular choice that many people find comfortable holding. Just make sure that it's compatible with whatever you're planning to use it with.
Controller basics: Understanding buttons and joysticks
If you haven't really used a controller before or it's been a while then there are some things to note. Every controller is different and might have buttons that don't do anything on mobile devices. Additionally, you must check with each individual game to see what controllers it supports.
When a controller has two joysticks, the left joystick is usually for controlling the character while the right one is usually for moving the camera to different positions. Learning to skillfully wield both at the same time can take a bit of practice, however, it can also allow you to quickly take in a situation and understand what options are available to you. Just note that not all games give you camera control.
The D-pad is usually located on the left side of a controller and somewhat resembles a plus sign. Some games won't use this at all, however, it might be necessary for others. For instance, there are games where the D-pad controls a specific menu. Not to mention that when playing sidescrolling platformers, sometimes the D-pad gives you better control than the joysticks do. Be patient and allow yourself to experiment. You'll get better with practice.
Play whatever way is most comfortable
Regardless of which one you use, a controller can make your gaming sessions far more convenient and comfortable on iPhone and iPad. Check with the gaming services and games you like to play to understand if it does support controllers and note which ones specifically can be used.
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Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.