Apart from a handheld console like the PlayStation Vita, your tablet or smartphone is probably the best way to game, and keep yourself entertained on the road. After all, a very decent-sized chunk of the iOS app store is filled with games. Some of these games lend themselves better to the iPhone’s or iPad’s touchscreen interface than others. At least part of Angry Birds‘ and Temple Run‘s success stems from their intuitive integration with the iPhone and iPad touch screen interface.
If you want to play more serious games, whether they are arcades or first person shooters, you’ll probably find the touch screen controls lacking. If so, it’s time to start looking at iOS gaming accessories – physical joysticks and gamepads – to augment your gaming experience.
1. Add Joysticks To Your iPhone Or iPad
The simplest way to tackle this problem is to add joysticks to your iOS device. These are simple contraptions that are placed on your device’s screen, directly above the virtual joystick you’d normally use. Tilting the joystick simulates a dragging finger on your virtual joystick. The main advantage of these is that you can play blind without the worry of losing the virtual joystick at a hectic moment.
Due to their size, a lot of these joysticks are better suited for the iPad, rather than the iPhone. Some companies also sell smaller joysticks that are intended for use with the iPhone. You can find these joysticks by searching on eBay or Amazon for ‘iPad joysticks’ or ‘iPhone joysticks’, or checking your local electronics store.
One popular set of joysticks is the Fling joystick by Ten One Design, pictured above. Fling joysticks are available for the iPad and the iPhone.
2. Buy A Third-Party iOS Game Controller
Sticking a joystick to your iOS device is a solution worthy of MacGyver, but sometimes you need a more tailored and precise solution. In these cases, you can try your luck with an actual gamepad. These game controllers forego the touchscreen altogether, relying instead on regular buttons and joysticks.
However, there is a drawback. Unless you’ve jailbroken your device, you’ll only be able to control games that have explicitly built in support for these third-party controllers. A list of compatible games can usually be found on the manufacturer’s website.
A few of the game controllers are available. Pictured above is the Duo Gamer (starting at $32.99). The iMpulse controller (pre-order $25) is a more portable solution that can be used on a multitude of platforms and also happens to help you locate your keys (really). Another interesting product that’s on its way is the iControlPad 2, funded through Kickstarter.
3. Control Almost Any Game With Blutrol (Jailbreak) ($6.99)
If you have the luck of owning a jailbroken device, the above restriction of compatible games is largely lifted. In addition to the games that have built in compatibility, you’ll be able to use most games that use on-screen joysticks and buttons (like RoboKiller, displayed below).
Blutrol is a Cydia tweak that allows you to map these on-screen controls to a wide variety of hardware. Even if the game has no built-in support for these. At the moment of writing, Blutrol officially supports the following hardware:
- Bluetooth keyboards (supported keys: W, A, D, S, U, I, O, H, J,K, B, N, M, Space)
- iMpulse (with exception of the shoulder buttons)
- PS3 DualShock Controller
- Wii Remote (a.k.a. Wiimote)
That’s right! In addition to your run-of-the-mill third-party gamepads, Blutrol also allows you to control your iPhone or iPad using the Wiimote or PlayStation 3 controller! An up-to-date list of supported hardware and usage instructions can be found on Blutrol’s Cydia page.
3.1 Installing Blutrol
To install Blutrol on your jailbroken device, search for it in Cydia. The tweak costs $6.99, so you’ll need to set up a payment method for the Cydia Store if you haven’t done so already. Open the Blutrol app from your homescreen and follow any instructions to round up the installation.
If you’re unable to find Blutrol, go to Cydia -> More Package Sources and select BigBoss.
3.2 Adding Games
First, you’ll want to take a screenshot of the game you’re going to play, with the on-screen controls clearly visible. We’ll use this to align the controls inside Blutrol.
To add a game, tap the plus icon in the top right corner of your screen. Here, you’ll be able to select one of your installed apps, and the screenshot you took before. If you need to play the game in both portrait and landscape mode, you’ll need a screenshot for each.
Finishing up, tap the Add button under Controller Configuration and select the appropriate controller. You’ll be able to add controls for portrait or landscape mode. This will show you the screenshot you took earlier, and the controls of the selected gamepad. You’ll have to drag the buttons over to the on-screen controls, pinching to resize the controls as needed. Drag all unused controls away from the screenshot.
This is shown in the screenshot above for RoboKill and the PlayStation 3 controller. Repeat this process for other orientations, or controllers.
3.3 Connecting Your Controller
You’ll still need to connect your controller to your iOS device. For all except the PlayStation 3 controller, this is fairly easy. We’ll explain the process for the PlayStation 3 controller in more detail below.
In Blutrol, select the controller tab. Here you’ll have to select the controller you’re trying to connect. iOS-compatible controllers like Duo Gamer, iCade and iMpulse can be paired with your iOS device like usual, via Settings -> General -> Bluetooth.
To pair any of the other controllers, select the appropriate item from the list of controllers and tap connect. Follow Blutrol’s device-specific instructions. To pair with the Wii Remote, I had to press the red sync button below the battery cap and tap the device name when it showed up on my iPad. If you’ve configured your game(s), you’ll be able to start playing as soon as your device is connected.
3.4 Connecting Your PlayStation 3 Controller
If you want to connect your PlayStation 3 controller to your iPhone or iPad, we’ll have to throw in an extra step. By default, your iOS device won’t detect your PlayStation 3 controller. To get it to work, you’ll have to store your iOS device’s Bluetooth address in your controller (this is easier than it sounds).
If you’re using a Mac OS X computer, download SixPair Tool. With the application running, connect both your iOS device and your PlayStation 3 controller to your computer over USB. A button will become available to pair your controller to your iOS device. After pairing the controller with your iPad, go back to Blutrol and follow the usual process.
If you’re using a Windows computer, download and install Sixaxis Pair Tool. Connect your PlayStation 3 remote to your computer using the USB cable, and run the application. You’ll have to manually input the bluetooth address of your iOS device. If you’re using Windows 8, you should run the application as Administrator and possibly in compatibility mode.
You can find the Bluetooth address on your iPhone or iPad. With your iOS device’s Bluetooth enabled, go to Settings -> General -> About. Near the bottom of your screen, you’ll find the Bluetooth address.
What controller are you going to use for your iOS device, and what games do you want to play with it? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below the article.