iOS 7 brought with it official support for gamepads on Apple devices, but one of the first on the market doesn't set a high standard.
One of the more subtle features of iOS 7 was the addition of official Apple drivers for gamepads on iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch devices. Before that update, every controller manufacturer had to contact game developers individually and coordinate support for their device. It was a splintered market in the way that achievement and friend tracking was splintered on iOS until Game Center was released. But the drivers in iOS 7 meant that controller manufacturers just had to support the one driver, and so long as game designers supported that same driver, those games would automatically work with those controllers.
iOS 7 is almost two months old, and the first controllers with gamepad driver support are finally starting to get released. The Moga Ace Power is one of the very first, and while it does indeed support Apple's official driver, it suffers from noticeably shoddy build quality.
Despite a $100 price point, the Moga Ace Power does not feel like a premium controller.
Despite a $100 price point, the Moga Ace Power does not feel like a premium controller. It has a cheap, plastic feel and a rattle that makes it seem like the controller could shake apart at any moment. There's also no wireless support, which means that you can only use devices that fit inside the controller's expanding design (basically just newer iPod Touch and iPhones that support Apple's lightning connector will work). There is a battery pack in the controller, so you can use it to charge your phone in a pinch, but it's far from ideal for anything beyond that.
It wasn't an easy project...
Jason Biheller, the director of gaming innovations at PowerA, admitted that some of the issues with the controller's feel may have been due to a number of restrictions. "It wasn't an easy project," he said in a phone interview. "I'm not blaming this on timing, but we did have a limited amount of time to get this done, and because the phone had to sit in the middle, it was very difficult. I guess you lose a little stability by having the phone in the center of the controller, because you've got moving parts and some mechanical designs moving back and forth. So you lose some of that solid feel you get with the Vita."
According to Biheller, Apple actually required that the controller be designed with the device resting in the middle, so that people could still use the touch controls without having to take their hands off the controller. He also mentioned that Apple only allows two configurations for their officially licensed controllers: "Option one was basically a standard controller with a directional pad, two shoulder buttons and four action buttons. Option two was what they called the extended game pad, which would be two analog sticks, a directional pad, four face buttons, shoulder buttons and triggers." In both cases, the device had to rest squarely in the center of the controller for it to be approved.
While Moga's first attempt at an officially-licensed iOS controller clearly misses the mark, the company has had success in the past with mobile gaming controllers, so this may have just been a step in the wrong direction. It'll be interesting to see how Moga's competition handles the challenge, and Logitech is rumored to have its own iOS controller in the works. There's also the always-present possibility of Apple entering the fray with its own controller design, knocking all competing third-parties out of the game.
Until that happens, though, expect fierce competition among controller makers for the foreseeable future.