Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Can I use my Xbox One or PS4 controller on my iPhone?

Posted in Apple, botch, california, game controller, gaming, video game by commorancy on September 16, 2019

XboxOneEliteController-smThis is a common question regarding the two most popular game controllers to have ever existed. Let’s explore.

MFi Certification

Let’s start with a little history behind why game controllers have been a continual problem for Apple’s iOS devices. The difficulty comes down to Apple’s MFi controller certification program. Since MFi’s developer specification release, not many controller developers have chosen to adopt it. The one notable exception is the SteelSeries Nimbus controller. It’s a fair controller, it holds well enough in the hand, has an okay battery life, but it’s not that well made. It does sport a lightning port so you can charge it with your iPhone’s charger, however. That’s of little concession, though, when you actually want to use an Xbox One or PS4 controller instead.

Because Apple chose to rely on its own MFi specification and certification system, manufacturers would need to build a controller that satisfies that MFi certification. Satisfying the requirements of MFi and getting certified likely requires licensing technology built by Apple. As we know, licenses typically cost money paid to Apple for the privilege of using that technology. That’s great for Apple, not so great for the consumer.

Even though the SteelSeries Nimbus is by no means perfect, it really has become the de facto MFi controller simply because no other manufacturers have chosen to adopt Apple’s MFi system. And why would they?

Sony and Microsoft

Both Sony and Microsoft have held (and continue to hold) the market as the dominant game controllers. While the SteelSeries Nimbus may have become the de facto controller for Apple’s devices, simply because there is nothing else really available, the DualShock and the Xbox One controllers are far and away better controllers for gaming. Apple hasn’t yet been able to break into the console market, even as much as they have tried with the Apple TV. Game developers just haven’t embraced the Apple TV in the same way they have of the Xbox One and the PS4. That’s obvious as to why. The Apple TV, while reasonable for some games, simply does not offer the same level of graphics and game power as an Xbox One or PS4. It also doesn’t have a controller built by Apple.

Until Apple gets its head into the game properly with a more suitably named game system actually intended for gaming, rather than general purpose entertainment, Apple simply can’t become a third console. Apple seems to try these roundabout methods of introducing hardware to try and usurp, or at least insert itself into certain markets. Because of this subtle roundabout method Apple chooses, it just never works out. In the case of MFi, that hasn’t worked out too well for Apple.

Without a controller that Apple has built themselves, few people see the Apple TV as anything more than a TV entertainment system with built-in apps… even if it can run limited games. The Apple TV is simply not seen as a gaming console. It doesn’t ship with a controller. It isn’t named appropriately. Thus, it is simply not seen as a gaming console.

With that said, the PS4 and the Xbox One are fully seen as gaming consoles and prove that with every new game release. Sony and Microsoft also chose to design and build their own controllers based on their own specifications; specifications that are intended for use on their consoles. Neither Sony, nor will Microsoft go down the path to MFi certification. That’s just not in the cards. Again, why would they? These controllers are intended to be used on devices Sony and Microsoft make. They aren’t intended to be used with Apple devices. Hence, there is absolutely zero incentive for Microsoft or Sony to retool their respective game controllers to cater to Apple’s MFi certification whims. To date, this has yet to happen… and it likely never will.

Apple is (or was) too caught up in itself to understand this fundamental problem. If Apple wanted Sony or Microsoft to bend to the will of Apple, Apple would have to pay Sony and Microsoft to spend their time, effort and engineering to retool their console controllers to fit within the MFi certification. In other words, not only would Apple have to entice Sony and Microsoft to retool their controllers, they’d likely have to pay them for that privilege. And so, here we are… neither the DualShock nor does the Xbox One controller support iOS via MFi certification.

iOS 12 and Below

To answer the above question, we have to observe Apple’s stance on iOS. As of iOS 12 and below, Apple chose to rely solely on its MFi certification system to certify controllers for use with iOS. That left few consumer choices. I’m guessing that Apple somehow thought that Microsoft and Sony would cave to their so-called MFi pressure and release updated controllers to satisfy Apple’s whims.

Again, why would either Sony or Microsoft choose to do this? Would they do it out of the goodness of their own heart? Doubtful. Sony and Microsoft would ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” Clearly, for iOS, not much. Sony doesn’t release games on iOS and neither does Microsoft. There’s no incentive to produce MFi certified controllers. In fact, Sony and Microsoft both have enough on their plates supporting their own consoles, let alone spending extra time screwing around with Apple’s problems.

That Apple chose to deny the use of the DualShock 4 and the Xbox One controllers on iOS was clearly an Apple problem. Sony and Microsoft couldn’t care less about Apple’s dilemmas. Additionally, because both of these controllers dominate the gaming market, even on PCs, Apple has simply lost out when sticking to their well-intentioned, but misguided MFi certification program. The handwriting was on the wall when they built the MFi developer system, but Apple is always blinded by its own arrogance. I could see that MFi would create more problems than it would solve for iOS when I first heard about it several years ago.

And so we come to…

iOS 13 and iPhone 11

With the release of iOS 13, it seems Apple has finally seen the light. They have also realized both Sony and Microsoft’s positions in gaming. There is simply no way that the two most dominant game controllers on the market will bow to Apple’s pressures. If Apple wants these controllers certified under its MFi program, it will need to take steps to make that a reality… OR, they’ll need to relax this requirement and allow these two controllers to “just work”… and the latter is exactly what Apple has done.

As of the release of iOS 13, you will be able to use both the Xbox One (bluetooth version) and the PS4’s DualShock 4 controller on iOS. Apple has realized its certification system was simply a pipe dream, one that never got realized. Sure, MFi still exists. Sure, iOS will likely support it for several more releases, but eventually Apple will obsolete it entirely or morph it into something that includes Sony and Microsoft’s controllers.

What that means for the consumer is great news. As of iOS 13, you can now grab your PS4 or Xbox One controller, pair it to iOS and begin gaming. However, it is uncertain exactly how compatible this will be for iOS. It could be that some games may not recognize these controllers until they are updated for iOS 13. This could mean that older games that only supported MFi may not work until they are updated for iOS 13. The problem here is that many projects have become abandoned over the years and their respective developers are no longer updating apps. That means that you could find your favorite game doesn’t work with the PS4 or Xbox One controller if it is now abandoned.

Even though iOS 13 will support the controllers, it doesn’t mean that older games will. There’s still that problem to be solved. Apple could solve that by folding the controllers under the MFi certification system internally to make them appear as though they are MFi certified. I’m pretty sure Apple won’t do that. Instead, they’ll likely offer a separate system that identifies “third party” controllers separately from MFi certified controllers. This means that developers will likely have to go out of their way to recognize and use Sony and Microsoft’s controllers. Though, we’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out in practice.

Great News

Even still, this change is welcome news to iOS and tvOS users. This means that you don’t have to go out and buy some lesser controller and hope it will feel and work right. Instead, you can now grab a familiar controller that’s sitting right next to you, pair it up and begin playing on your iPad.

This news is actually more than welcome, it’s a necessity. I think Apple finally realizes this. There is no way Sony or Microsoft would ever cave to Apple’s pressures. In fact, there was no pressure at all really. Ultimately, Apple shot themselves in the foot by not supporting these two controllers. Worse, by not supporting these controllers, it kept the Apple TV from becoming the hopeful gaming system that Apple had wanted. Instead, it’s simply a set-top box that provides movies, music and limited live streaming services. Without an adequate controller, it simply couldn’t become a gaming system.

Even the iPad and iPhone have been suffering without good solid controllers. Though, I’m still surprised that Apple itself hasn’t jumped in and built their own Apple game controller. You’d think that if they set out to create an MFi certification system that they’d have taken it to the next step and actually built a controller themselves. Nope.

Because Apple relied on third parties to fulfill its controller needs, it only really ever got one controller out of the deal. A controller that’s fair, but not great. It’s expensive, but not that well made. As I said above, it’s the SteelSeries Nimbus. It’s a mid-grade controller that works fine in most cases, but cannot hold a candle to the PS4’s or the Xbox One’s controller for usability. Personally, I always thought of the Nimbus controller as a “tide me over” controller until something better came along. That never happened. Unfortunately, it has taken Apple years to own up to this mistake. A mistake that they’ve finally decided to rectify in iOS 13.

A little late, yes, but well done Apple!

↩︎

 

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: