Video game systems today can be separated into three different categories. First, we have the home console market, where Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are battling it out. Next, you have the traditional handheld market, where Nintendo and Sony are going head to head. Finally, you have mobile devices — smartphones and tablets — that can do touchscreen gaming and typically stick to low-budget, novelty games. Examples include the Apple iPhone and iPad, as well as Android devices.

Gamers tend to look at the big three — Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo — when discussing the present and future of gaming. As successful as iOS has been as a mobile gaming platform, it doesn’t command the same respect simply because iPhones, iPod touches and iPads were not built with traditional gaming in mind. They don’t have the tactile feedback that buttons and analog joysticks can provide, and because not all games can deliver a great experience using touch-only controls, the number of big titles that make the jump to iOS are limited.

Something as simple as gamepad support could make all the difference. It could help iOS make that leap from novelty gaming platform to legitimate contender. And at WWDC last Monday, that support finally came in a blink-and-you-missed-it moment — Apple briefly showed a slide with a list of new iOS features, and MFi game controller support was on it.

ios-gamepad-screenAt the end of the keynote, the world tuned out and news outlets scurried off to cover the bigger Apple stories, but we weren’t through hearing about gamepad support inside iOS. At a session titled, “Platform State of the Union,” Apple let out a few more details. The company is specifying which buttons the controllers should have and even provided two reference models — one controller that an iPhone can dock into, and another wireless, external controller. And we even got to see a demo of a Crytek title being played with a game controller, utilizing both the buttons on the pad and the touchscreen of the iPhone.

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The docking controller works with iPhones and iPod touches, effectively turning them into portable, touchscreen game systems similar to the PlayStation Vita. The external game controller would turn your iPad into a larger (but still portable) game machine. And then there’s the Apple TV, which hasn’t quite reached its potential yet. Perhaps it’s a $99 Trojan horse for something bigger, and the release of an SDK and support for an external gamepad would finally show us what it’s capable of.

It seems that all of the pieces for Apple’s foray into gaming are finally coming together. The redesigned Game Center in iOS 7 looks an awful lot like Apple’s take on Xbox Live. The fact that iOS runs on iPhones, iPod touches, iPads and the Apple TV means that developers can support all of those systems without a lot of extra hassle. And iCloud can keep your saved games accessible anywhere so that you can pick up where you left off, regardless of which iOS device you’re on.

This could be one of the sneakiest things Apple has ever done. Every iPhone, iPod touch and iPad sold will become a legitimate handheld gaming system this fall, and every Apple TV could become a home gaming console with the flip of a switch. It didn’t get a single mention during this year’s keynote, but in a couple of months, I have a feeling we’ll all be talking about it.

  • Can’t wait to have a controller to play all those generic platforming clones, boring endless runners, bland puzzle games, and other garbage on my iphone.

    • EA has released quite a few titles for iOS that would be more enjoyable with a controller — ex. Mass Effect Infiltrator, Dead Space, FIFA 13. And that’s just one publisher. Keep an eye on it.

    • This a million times.

      iphone games are garbage for mindless casuals. Apple will never be a contender in anything but facebook style fake games.

  • Gaming Platforms and all that is good but if the quality of games deteriorate then it wont mean a thing…EA ruin games…Mass Effect 3 was a prime example of how they ruin games…Fifa 13 i wished i never bought it as nthing new was there…Gaming quality is going down the drain…

  • Thanks for leaving out PC. Personally, I have absolutely no interest in mobile gaming. I like to do my traditional gaming at home, when I really have the time to put into a meaningful game experience. The only mobile game I play is solitare. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, I just feel like I’ve gotten a gaming experience in while playing angry birds.

    • You’re right about the PC as a gaming platform, but the PC is in a category by itself when compared with consoles that offer a completely different experience. As far as mobile gaming, I can’t say I disagree with you about it being unfulfilling when compared consoles or PC, but I think that’s because of the input channel — touch — more than the mobile nature of the devices. I’ve had great gaming experiences on Nintendo portables, after all.

      The controller is a big deal. Apple knows it’s important to the future of gaming on iOS devices. That’s why the support is there. When an iPhone becomes a more-powerful 3DS or Vita, gamepad in tow, I think people will change their tune.

  • i love both my ipad games and my android games but at the end of the day none of them can compete with console gaming or pc gaming they are different experiences. ps uncharted on the psvita is the first time i played a mobile game that game the same experience as a console game.

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