As reported by The Verge, the first third-party iOS 7 game controllers are going on sale this week, although with mixed reviews by the press. Namely, PowerA has released the MOGA Ace Power ($100) and Logitech announced the PowerShell (Controller + Battery, shipping in December in the United States, priced at $99).
Both controllers take advantage of Apple's new game controller API that was added in iOS 7, which allows hardware makers to create physical controllers that follow a specification provided by Apple, and that lets game developers easily add support for the controller framework once and expect their games to work with controllers by any company. However, Apple decided to make controllers optional in iOS 7 games (multi-touch is still required as primary input) and they didn't launch or highlight a specific section of controller-ready games in the App Store, which led me to wonder about the potential of game controllers in the future.
Polygon's Russ Frushtick tried the MOGA Ace Power, and he was not impressed:
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.
The MOGA Ace Power uses the “extended” controller option of Apple's framework, which has support for dual analog sticks and shoulder buttons + triggers. Apparently, Apple asked PowerA to make sure iPhones and iPod touches could sit in the middle of the controller.
In his hands-on post, TouchArcade's Eli Hodapp noted the potential of the MOGA Ace Power, its poor build quality, but also described the experience of playing first-person shooters on iOS:
Additionally, I've found myself actually enjoying playing first person shooters on my iPhone for the first time I can ever remember. All the frustration of having your thumbs all over the screen desperately trying to look and move while avoiding and/or hitting a plethora of virtual buttons just totally fades away. If you're a huge fan of iOS first person shooters, consider one of these controllers an absolute must-have accessory.
Alas, it sounds like most game developers haven't tested their games with the first iOS 7 controllers, resulting in interfaces that don't disappear when a controller is connected (virtual buttons and sticks) or control schemes that don't use all the provided buttons.
The Logitech PowerShell, on the other hand, uses the simple, SNES-like controller configuration with no dual analog sticks. SlashGear's Chris Davies tried the PowerShell, although I'm not sure this justifies its premium price tag:
As you might hope for a hundred-dollar controller, the keys are sturdy and firm, with just the right sort of response under your fingertip. If you’ve tried a recent Logitech pad for PC, they’ll be very familiar.
On the official website, Logitech has posted a list of games that are compatible with the PowerShell (and presumably any other controller as well) and a product page with additional information and photos.
Based on initial reviews, it sounds like it's too early to invest in an iOS 7 game controller: as expected, the first controllers work but they're not great, and, more importantly, you won't find many games with proper support for game controllers today. iOS 7 game controllers keep having enormous potential to enhance gaming on iOS; at the same time, though, we'll have to wait and see if physical controllers are what iOS really needed to go beyond freemium games, ports, spin-offs, and the occasional gem.