Before I started blogging about Apple, I used to work on a number of different gaming websites back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The E3 gaming conference was one the highlights of my year, and I regularly ventured out to Los Angeles to cover all of the new releases that were revealed at this touchstone of an event. I even made sure to fly out to Tokyo to cover the Tokyo Games Show before it turned into the shell of its former self that it is today.

Those days were the heydays of gaming coverage. Websites (they weren’t called blogs back then) were thriving, and even print mags were still relatively popular. Publishers used to spend an absurd amount of cash throwing parties and constructing huge booths for the major conferences throughout the year. Open bars were the norm, not the exception. And booth babes. I’ll just leave that one alone.

Of course, a lot of that has now changed. Some things for the better, and a lot of things for the worse, depending on who you ask. Gone are the days of the massively popular trade events that we used to flock to every year. Yes, they still exist, but they’re nothing like the used to be back in the day. During this transition period, we’ve seen gaming staples like Nintendo struggle to remain relevant, while Apple, inadvertent as it may be, rises to dominance.

This ain’t your grandpa’s gaming console…

Up until now, Apple’s foray into the gaming industry has been coincidental. Okay, fine, Apple did at one time venture into gaming with the Pippin, but that was more of a one-off than a full time thing. The Apple that we know today never even thought about having an App Store until it was more or less forced upon them.

Yes, Nintendo has been able to weather storms in the past despite its stubborn take on change, but how can they compete with a device that literally does everything?

To be fair, Apple has done a masterful job marketing its App Store, ensuring that its success train stays on track at a higher rate of speed than a Japanese Shinkansen. It now finds itself as a major player in the gaming industry, although its assault has been all but incidental up until now.


That all changed back in mid-June, when Apple revealed that they would be adding official support for gaming controllers at WWDC 2013. Prior to this announcement, developers have had to finagle, or at the very least, adopt a substandard method for interacting with 3rd party controllers. Now, with support for gaming hardware by means of official API access in tow, the game has changed.

How it used to work

Before iOS 7, game developers wishing to include controller support in their releases had to use the substandard method of Bluetooth keyboard mapping. This basically meant that they used the built in communication with Bluetooth keyboards present in iOS. Thus, a 3rd party game controller could emulate keyboard buttons in order to control on screen elements. Needless to say, this was never officially sanctioned by Apple.

ThinkGeek iCade
These devices use Bluetooth keyboard emulation as a workaround

The result? Yes, it worked, but it left a whole lot to be desired. Control was okay at best, and horribly inaccurate at worst. Since keyboard presses are nothing more than digital on and offs, true analog control with different degrees of movement was impossible.

Not only that, but many Bluetooth controllers were difficult to setup, or wouldn’t work at all. And the game support in and of itself was substandard at best. In a nutshell, the workaround was passable, but it wasn’t very palatable.

Then there were the extreme workarounds. Blutrol, a jailbreak tweak that allowed jailbroken iPhone and iPad users to map out hardware button locations, made things a little better. This was a genius of a tweak that allowed gamers to actually “draw” button locations on screen, and then map those buttons to a Bluetooth controller.

Blutrol worked fairly well for games like Street Fighter, and other titles with less demanding control schemes, but ultimately, it still relied on the unreliable keyboard mapping over Bluetooth method. Nonetheless, if you’re jailbroken, I urge you to check it out, because it’s a pretty impressive application to see in action.

How it works now

Now that one of the first controllers with built in Made for iPhone (MFi) support has been leaked — a piece of hardware by Logitech — I’ve started thinking about where Apple is positioned in the gaming industry, and what this means for iOS gamers, and gamers as a whole.

Logitech gamepad ios 7
Logitech’s entry has questionable ergonomics, but it’s certainly better than nothing

The big news here is Apple’s acceptance of its new role, as inadvertent as it all may have been, as a forerunner in the gaming industry. Apple’s move to open up official API access to hardware makers is the first real acknowledgement of its new place in gaming.

Logitech’s entry is but the first of an inevitable flood of gaming hardware for iOS. For gamers, this is absolutely amazing. iOS has tons of games, but the AAA games aren’t exactly pouring in left and right. Even the AAA games that are released feature subpar control, unless, of course, the game was designed from the ground up with touch screen control in mind.

gamepad ios 7 gamepad ios 7 2
Apple approved MFi controllers will come in standalone and enclosed varieties

Real gamers, or traditional gamers, if you will, want precise control. Granted, some gaming genres benefit more from the precise control offered by a hardware controller than others, but the general consensus is that serious gamers want a choice.That’s exactly what iOS has been lacking up until now. Gamers will no longer have to block the screen with their fingers using buttons that have no real tactile feedback. The iPhone is now a legitimate handheld gaming console.

It’s only a matter of time before a controller hits shelves that is good enough to compete with the control offered by competing handheld platforms. Once that happens, the virtual floodgates will be opened and you’ll see developers begin to port titles once solely destined for traditional consoles.

SquareEnix Games
SquareEnix don’t care!

I’m most interested to see what kind of repercussions this will have on the current pricing structure found in the App Store. Most games are already at the bottom of the price scale, or bottom out a short time after their debut, although that’s not a hard and fast rule. There are plenty of titles, most noticeably from traditional console developer SquareEnix, that buck this trend, remaining in the upper echelon of App Store pricing.

Once iOS devices are legitimatized as tried and true gaming consoles, it very well could alter the culture around App Store pricing. Perhaps we’ll see more titles priced at higher points with the outlook that “hey, this is a real game, and we’re selling it at a more traditional price point.”

One thing that isn’t debatable, though, are the implications that Apple’s WWDC announcement will have on the gaming industry as a whole. This is going to change the overall perception about gaming on iOS. It’s going to change the type of titles that come to iOS, and it’s going to change the developers who look to iOS as a viable platform. This, folks, is just the beginning of a remarkable new landscape for traditional handheld gaming as we know it.

The implications

The real question is: where does Nintendo fit amidst all of this change? Sadly, the future doesn’t look very bright for the Big N from a mid to long-term view. Nintendo has always done well for itself, even though its never been a company to embrace change expediently (CDs vs Cartridges is one famous example). They’ve been able to succeed in the past because of one simple fact: they make great games.

Nintendo 64
Nintendo has always been slow to adapt, but they make great games

But in the past, people were more willing to own dedicated devices that perform specific functions. You had a phone for talking, a computer for the Internet, and a gaming console for games. Apple changed all of that. The trend since 2007 is for everything to be consolidated into a singular device that you can carry around with you wherever you go. An iPod, a Phone, and an Internet Communicator, remember?

Yes, Nintendo has been able to weather storms in the past despite its stubborn take on change, but how can they compete with a device that literally does everything?

Handheld gaming sales are seeing a decrease in the face of non-traditional competition

Data is already supporting the idea of non-traditional gaming platforms like iOS and Android are eating into the traditional marketshare. The fallout from implementing official controller support is going to have widespread implications. Now all we can do is sit back and watch how all goes down.

  • Yujin

    Add a retina display ipad and an A7X chip with many GPUs and you get a console. Sure it is a personal one,but with controllers, the ipad mini will kill the Nintendo 3DS do and any other contender, cheap games, diversity, and multiple hardware controllers It will make apple the go to gaming platform…add airplay and we maybe seeing a new revolution.

    Just grab your popcorn and watch

    • Shadowlink

      You said it, cheap hollow games.

    • Raashid

      Cheap, IAP-infected games that aren’t even as interactive as $5 flat PS1 games…

    • Shadowlink

      Let’s hope not. What’s the point of killing a console? wtf do you possibly get out of it? Does Apple pay you money when the kill a console? People make me sick, why not have diversity and options as to what to play and enjoy and the worst part is that there are people that think the same shit as you and actually want it to happen.

      • Carlos

        This is not a boycott, this is just what happens when companies don’t adapt to change. Nintendo has options right now to remain in the competition but if they don’t act fast, they’ll end up like BlackBerry.

      • Shadowlink

        lol why do people act like nintendo is doing bad??? the 3ds is selling really well so i dont know why they need to act or adapt to anything, If there is a console that is somewhat in danger it would be the vita.

      • Markus Hudobnik

        They aren’t in handheld, but in consoles they are doing bad. The wii U launched with very few titles and compared to the other next-gen consoles it is extremely week.

  • Shadowlink

    Nothing will ever replace dedicated gaming consoles. If that ever does happen, it will be the time I stop gaming.

    • Canchume

      and the pc ? lol, the gaminng consoles are obsolets (I’m a gamer from xbox 360 ) look what happend in the launch of the gta online

      • Shadowlink

        I don’t understand your reply. If you are implying consoles are obsolete, the you are an idiot. Many people prefer gaming on a console because of the ease of just inserting a game and playing it. On PC it’s more involved. Not hating on PC gaming, I want to build one myself. That’s what I love about gaming you have the option of playing how you want, if phones overtake consoles, then it will all go to shit.

  • f1ght3r

    Great article!

  • Markus Hudobnik

    All I want from Nintendo is to release official older Pokemon games on the iOS store. Should be SOO awesome to have official support.

    • Josh Venegas

      like that game on n64 where u had to take a picture of all the pokemon while you rode in a vehicle?

      • not a spark

        Pokemon snap… That’s was awesome!

      • Markus Hudobnik

        Pokemon snap! Loved that game. I was proud when I got a picture of everything

    • Trim

      There’s a game on App Store called Zenforms: Protectors. It’s a lot like Pokemon. Check it out.

  • iBanks

    I can see all the crying now about paying $15+ a game. We’d pay $60 for an xbox game or even $20 for a DS game but let an iOS game be $2.99… Ah hell! The complaining that goes on with that.

    • hey_zeus

      I agree. But if the right game comes along, I will pay for it. I bought KOTOR and haven’t regretted it.

      But I won’t spend that amount for something like Angry Birds.

  • Jonah

    “Apple approved MFi controllers will come come in standalone and enclosed varieties”
    – There is ‘come’ twice

    By the way, great job on the article!

    • Jeff

      Fixed, thanks!

  • n0ahcruz3

    Palm(R.I.P), Blackberry(pending), HTC(pending), Nintendo(next). I can see nintendo becoming a niche player and fades into irrelevancy unless they come up with some revolutionary gaming console. Apple is slowly eating nintendo and other gaming consoles lunch.

    • Jeff

      They will just pull a Sega and become software only. Except, they’ll be more successful than Sega was, because they have a stronger IP stable. Not an ideal outcome for Nintendo, as it’s better that they control the hardware and receive full publishing royalties, but it beats death.

      • n0ahcruz3

        I agree, they could just copy Steams business model by offering their games online in an appstore like manner and license it to smartphone or Laptop manufacturers. Nintendos hardware business is crumbling sales of its latest console is abysmal. Its just my opinion. Dont flame me(nintendo fans) 😉

      • Markus Hudobnik

        I feel like they could make more money that way. Develop or port awesome Nintendo games to other platforms. Most people I know love Nintendo for a few of there games, but never want to but their console because of lack of 3rd party support. That being said, Pokemon on my iPhone would be killer.

    • Shadowlink

      I love how people assume Nintendo are the only ones making games and consoles. Are people really that ignorant?

      • n0ahcruz3

        If you read again my post i clearly said “and other gaming consoles”.

  • TesticularFortitude

    This is gonna make lots of people uncomfortable. Like Jeff, I’m curious to see how this unfolds. Already people are dismissing this as an inferior experience.

  • Trim

    How do you use headphones if you have the controller on? Do you have to use wireless ones?

  • Dao Sasone

    Will it be able to connect 2 controllers at once?

  • Freddy Born

    Yes. I just watched the dev video.

  • Freddy Born

    I hope gameloft will update modern combat, nova and asphalt 8 with mfi. Maybe that is why they discontinued demur duogamer…. I hope.

    • Abdl

      MC4 would be great on ipad with a controller

  • Aden

    It is better if u can map the controller in the game easily and not developer doing it this will increase customzibility

  • Taf Khan

    Now we are bringing back memories. I still have 5 or 6 full volumes of Die Hard GameFan (US) and the first 200 Edge Magazines (UK) in the loft.

    Ol’Skool rocks!

  • Dan

    imo, iPhone/iPad or any other smart device won’t be replacing PC/gaming consoles anytime soon. The quality of games we have right now on app store/play store are nowhere near the quality that you have on consoles/PC.

    Also, even if they did catch up (in content), these smart devices do not have the innards to render these games in all their glory on a 50” screen. The A7 chip may be impressive, but it just can’t beat the power of a highend PC/Mac right now.

    Also, some PC games take up more than 20 GB due to their high resolution textures and vast content. Good luck fitting that on an iPhone.

    Can you honestly compare a games like Infinity Blade (or any offering from app store) to Skyrim, The Witcher, Mass Effect, Dragon Age etc.

    Too many obstacles for today’s tech.

    • Markus Hudobnik

      Next-gen games like kill zone and destiny are up to 50 Gb in size.

  • Ishaan Malhotra

    Why doesnt apple allow direct hdmi for iphone with gaming, instead of just pics and vids?

  • I can see people sliding an iPad mini into an enclosed controller, Airplay to an Apple TV for an apple like Wii U experience. If anything is to be said about Apple heading in the console market is that they would be the new Nintendo i.e. (kid friendly games, built in social network, built in existing user base).
    They could also make the experience scale-able by introducing different models or tiers just like all the rest of their product lines.

    Newer Apple TV w/ MFi stand alone controller = entry level @ 149.99 – 199.99
    MFi enclosed controller = 39.99 – 49.99

    MFI stand alone controller = 49.99 – 59.99

    Their are many options that they could consider delivering to their customers, and that would be the key differentiating selling point that they could base their console gaming model on.

  • neoamaru

    yah but believe you me Apple is going absolutely nowhere with AT LEAST it’s Storage constraints..iPhone 5S hit & we STILL aren’t getting past 64gigs..
    & the Retina Display needs a bit of a refresh now that Sony will open 2014 with an Xperia Z2 which will boast 506 ppi…*do i really need to talk about how i desperately want a WIDER not TALLER screen??*