- The easiest way to play video games on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV is with a controller.
- The SteelSeries Nimbus+ is our high decide due to its versatility, acquainted format, and iOS options.
There is no denying the recognition of iOS video games. Apple gave them their very own part of the App Retailer in 2017 and launched the Apple Arcade subscription service in 2019 due to its prospects play so many video games.
Many mobile games are playable solely with a touchscreen. However, some games benefit from more accurate controls, and the lack of an official Apple controller forces iOS players to rely on third-party controllers. (This is a problem that Apple has been rumored to remedy for years but has never done so.)
With so many controller alternatives available, determining which iOS gamepad is perfect for your needs can be difficult. For example, the best controller for someone who owns an Xbox One and usually plays on their Apple TV will differ from the best controller for someone who doesn’t own a console and only plays games on their iPhone while commuting.
We chose the finest controllers for playing games on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV after evaluating multiple models on various iOS devices. Based on Apple’s improved support for console gamepads, compatibility with various types of devices, and probable use cases, our recommendations are separated into groups aimed toward specific buyers.
The perfect iOS controller total
The SteelSeries Nimbus+ is essentially the most versatile but acquainted controller you will discover for gaming throughout the Apple ecosystem.
Pros: Includes a built-in stand that fits most iPhones; works with all current iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac models; iOS navigation buttons match the familiar layout.
Cons: The stand’s attachment can be a little shaky, and the visible battery indicator detracts from the aesthetic.
The SteelSeries Nimbus+ is one of the best iOS controllers because of its incredible versatility. It might simply pair with iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac gadgets through Bluetooth. It may be used standalone as a standard controller, or it may be used with an iPhone mount that makes it appear extra like a handheld console than a gamepad. And, it will possibly even be custom-made utilizing the SteelSeries Engine software program.
All of these characteristics make it simple for the Nimbus+ to integrate into the Apple ecosystem. The Lightning port, which allows most iPhone and iPad owners to keep their batteries charged, serves the same purpose. Owners of iPad Pros who want to charge their devices with a USB-C cable will have to dig out one of their old Lightning cables. On a single charge, the battery lasts up to 50 hours, which should be more than adequate for mobile use or gaming sessions on the sofa.
The Nimbus+ was clearly influenced by other controllers; it has the same layout as Sony’s DualShock 4 and the shape of Microsoft’s Xbox Wireless Controller. Four face buttons, two shoulder buttons, a directional pad, two clickable analog sticks, and a trio of iOS-specific navigation buttons are included. Any experienced player should be comfortable with the controller.
This isn’t to argue that the Nimbus+ is without flaws. The phone mount is dangerous to attach, the visible battery indicator is an eyesore, and the face buttons are strangely slick compared to those on other controllers. However, none of its competitors come close to matching the Nimbus+ when it comes to providing a wonderful experience across all of your Apple devices. The adaptability of the product more than compensates for a few design flaws.
The perfect iOS controller for PlayStation owners
The DualShock 4 is included with the PlayStation 4, it contains a dependable design for gaming, and it is simple to swap between Apple gadgets and your console.
Pros: Familiar layout; PS4 owners will not need to buy a new controller; Switching between devices is simple.
Cons: Not everyone will find it pleasant to use; battery life, particularly late in the controller’s life, can be inadequate.
In 1997, Sony released the first DualShock controller as a PlayStation attachment. Every PlayStation console prior to the PlayStation 5, which came with the new DualSense controller, debuted with a next-generation DualShock controller that improved on the previous design. Millions of gamers are familiar with the controller, and PS4 players can use it with all of their Apple devices.
To coincide with the launch of Apple Arcade, Apple extended compatibility for the DualShock 4 to iOS and tvOS in 2019. It’s as simple as pressing and holding the Share and PlayStation buttons at the same time until the light bar flashes. The controller can then be selected in the Bluetooth settings on the iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV; when it’s successfully associated, the light bar will glow a solid color.
Otherwise, using the DualShock 4 is equivalent to using it with a PS4. The controller has the same basic structure as the 1997 DualShock: two clickable analog sticks, a directional pad, four face buttons, two shoulder buttons, and three navigation buttons. The DualShock 4 will be familiar to everyone who has played on a PlayStation console in the last 23 years.
Unfortunately, not all of the DualShock 4′s functions are supported in every game. Some developers refuse to support “additional” features like the touch bar, light bar, and rumble feedback. Although Apple has made it simple for developers to adapt on-screen control prompts based on the attached controller, they aren’t always precise. Furthermore, the DualShock 4’s battery life is frequently inadequate.
The perfect iOS controller for Xbox players
The Xbox Wireless Controller is a superb all-around gamepad for iOS gadgets, and it contains a form many individuals with more giant fingers will discover snug.
Pros: Easy to swap between devices; Xbox One owners will not need to purchase a new controller; comfortable design lends itself nicely to longer gaming sessions.
Cons: It may be too big for certain people’s hands, and it requires batteries.
In 2019, Apple didn’t only give a bone to PlayStation owners; it also announced official support for the Xbox One controller. It’s the same fundamental idea — make it simple for iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV owners to use a gaming controller they already own — but this time, it’s being applied to the gamepad Microsoft has included with every Xbox since 2013.
Most consumers won’t have to choose between an Xbox controller and a DualShock 4 for iOS because they’ll almost certainly own both, and both are excellent performers. There are a few differences to observe for individuals who do have a choice.
The most evident difference is the shape: Microsoft’s controller features an asymmetric layout, a somewhat larger body, and more trigger-like shoulder buttons. It also chose AA batteries over rechargeable batteries, giving the Xbox One controller a longer battery life at the cost of convenience.
I’ve had a PlayStation for most of my life and am used to the DualShock controllers, but I have to confess that the Xbox One controller is a lot more comfortable when playing for long periods of time. Microsoft’s offering will likely appeal to individuals with larger hands, while Sony’s may appeal to those with smaller hands. But, once again, the goal is to use your existing controller with as many devices as possible.
It’s as simple as pushing the Xbox button, holding down the Pair button for a few seconds if the controller is already connected to a console, and then selecting the controller from the Bluetooth menu of the iOS or tvOS device you want to play on. During my testing of the Xbox One controller for this article, I had no issues moving between my iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV.
However, it should be noted that the brand-new Xbox One controller released alongside the Xbox Series S and X does not yet have official iOS support. It’s planned to be added, but for the time being, only the older model mentioned in this article works with iOS.
The perfect iOS controller for Nintendo Change followers
The Backbone One turns a linked iPhone right into a makeshift Nintendo Change with a bevy of software program options that are not accessible with different gamepads.
Pros: Easy setup, comfortable design, broad software support
Cons: This controller isn’t as portable as some others.
The Backbone One unmistakably makes the iPhone look like a Nintendo Switch. The layouts are nearly identical, with a controller on the left, a screen in the center, and another gamepad on the right. Anyone who has used a Switch will be perfectly at home with the Backbone One, and may even wish Nintendo would replicate a few of its innovations.
Creating the Foundation One is as simple as separating the gamepads, aligning the Lightning connector with the comparable port on an iPhone, and snapping the controller into position. This can be a little nerve-wracking the first few times, but despite using the controller for dozens of hours over several weeks, I haven’t had any issues.
It’s time to set up the Backbone app for iOS once the hardware is in place. The app can be used to identify and launch games that support the Backbone One at its most basic level. You can also share your experiences through screenshots, gaming recordings, and social elements like joining a friend’s game.
The Backbone One was clearly designed with this platform in mind. It contains a dedicated Backbone button for opening the program, an ellipsis button for muting the system’s microphone when touched twice, and a capture button for recording games or taking screenshots. (Along with the identical menu button seen on many other gamepads.)
The result is a controller with dual analog sticks, a slew of face buttons, traditional shoulder buttons, and a robust social platform that provides a full console experience. It also has great mobile features including a headphone jack, a Lightning port for passthrough charging, and the ability to run on battery power.
The perfect iOS controller for the journey
The Razer Kishi is an easy-to-transport controller with a small footprint and compatibility with all kinds of iPhone fashions.
Pros: Excellent for traveling, compatible with most iPhone models, and does not require a battery
Cons: It’s difficult to set up the first time or reset between uses, and it’s not compatible with the complete Apple ecosystem.
Razer is most renowned for their PC gaming accessories, but the firm introduced a new Kishi smartphone controller at CES 2020. (I’ve been using the iOS version, but there is also an Android version.) Unlike the majority of the controllers on this list, which replicate or are just classic gamepads, the Razer Kishi excels as a travel companion that enhances iPhone gaming.
This is how it goes. Pull apart the Kishi, insert the right controller into your iPhone’s Lightning port, then position your phone with the slot on the left controller. The accessory then secures the iPhone in place while also providing the same inputs as more typical gamepads – two analog sticks, four face buttons, two shoulder buttons, and so on. When properly configured, the Kishi resembles the Backbone One, allowing you to use your phone as a Nintendo Switch.
This configuration is ideal for on-the-go gaming, especially for those who want their controller to take up as little room as possible in their baggage. Unlike the Backbone One, which uses plastic to bridge the space between its controllers, the Kishi uses fabric bands. When the Kishi is collapsed, the resulting configuration is less robust than the Backbone One, but it is also smaller. Backbone’s offering will appeal to gamers who desire a better gaming experience; those who value space will prefer the Razer and its more portable form.
For iPhone gamers on the go, the Razer Kishi is a terrific choice. The controller is more responsive, durable, and portable than most of its competitors. It also has passthrough charging, which should make keeping the connected iPhone charged throughout long game sessions much easier. Other controllers are more versatile, but the Kishi is an appealing alternative for all but the most serious gamers when it comes to playing games on an iPhone when out and about.
Our testing methodology
I put various models to the test using a variety of games and media apps to find the best iOS controller. All of our controllers were utilized to play iOS-native games, games streamed from my PlayStation 4 Pro via the Remote Play app, and games streamed from my PC via the Steam Link app.
The purpose was to test each controller’s responsiveness in a range of settings, validate that it could operate with the iOS UI, and compare performance between genres.
The comfort with which the controllers felt while playing, the speed with which their batteries died, and the ease with which they were set up were all factors considered. Some of these indicators, such as comfort, are unquestionably subjective. However, I’ve gone through a lot of extras and tried to make the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity as plain as possible. However, depending on a few circumstances, your mileage may vary.
Examined hardware features a new iPhone SE, second-generation iPad Professional, Apple TV 4K, and the 2018 Mac mini. The SteelSeries Nimbus+, DualShock 4, and Xbox Wireless Controller work with the entire gadgets. Nevertheless, the Razer Kishi and the Backbone One depend upon a physical Lightning connection limiting them to the iPhone.
What we want ahead to testing
Though the controllers we’ve chosen represent the best we’ve been able to test so far, there are always more models we’d like to try. With the arrival of the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X|S, a slew of additional alternatives should be available soon.
When iOS support is officially implemented, I’m looking forward to testing these new controls.
Sony DualSense Controller ($70): In November 2020, Sony released the DualSense controller alongside the PlayStation 5, ending the DualShock line’s 23-year reign. With the beta release of iOS 14.5, Apple included compatibility for the new controller, so official support should arrive soon. It’ll be intriguing to watch how developers use its unique characteristics, such as haptic feedback and adaptable triggers.
Microsoft also announced a new Xbox Wireless Controller ($60) in November to go along with the Xbox Series X|S consoles. The new Xbox Wireless Controller has a slightly different design, with a Share button in the middle. With the beta release of iOS 14.5, support for this controller appeared, and with both Apple and Microsoft stating that they want the gamepad to operate with Apple devices, it appears that Xbox fans won’t have to wait long to use the controller elsewhere.
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