Sure we've seen other good controllers for iOS like the iCade. But the Duo Gamer is the first controller approved and supported by Apple. Let that sink in. The first controller officially approved and supported by Apple.
It's the first game controller that doesn't need to pretend like it's a keyboard; it can be a controller. Core gamer nirvana? Slow down those dual analog stick loving thumbs for a second and take a look at this beast.
It's true, it's a real controller for iOS, but there are some downsides. Well, one really big one. You see, to meet Apple's guidelines for a fully supported external device, the device can only work with a single developer's apps. In this case, that means that this controller will only fully work with Gameloft games. It is not, and can never be (under current rules) a universal controller. It is yet to be seen if other developers may be able to unofficially support it. But even if so, without rule changes by Apple, it will only be supported by Gameloft games.
But back to the good stuff. This is a dual analog controller, and it is for Gameloft, the presumed leader in first person shooters on iOS. And if any genre needs strong controller support, it's FPS.
To use the controller, it first needs to be connected to your device. To do so, you connect the controller via Bluetooth. A simple and quick connection. It works with any iOS device that supports Bluetooth. A recent iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad should work fine.
Once the Duo Gamer is conected, if you don't have any supported games installed, a dialog pops up and takes you to the App Store with a list of supported games. That's what official Apple support gives you. A special window on the App Store just for your device. Huge.
I put the controller through it's paces. And while it may not be the most comfortable controller to hold, a little thick, heavy, and blocky for long sessions, it is the best I've tried for iOS. Perhaps the official support makes it a bit more responsive than others, not sure. I'm not completely sure of the technology being used, and the companies involved have been expectedly quiet on it.
The Duo Gamer has dual analog joysticks, a 4-way gamepad, and six buttons (ABXY on the front and two shoulder buttons). That makes it fairly functional for the games we tried. And with the greater hardware support--meaning it doesn't have to play tricks and act like a keyboard--it functions much more smoothly. With other controllers we would occasionally lose a button click or joystick movement--likely a key press event being missed. This hasn't happened with the Duo Gamer controller. Impressive.
After spending a lot of time in NOVA 3, one of the three games currently supported (of a promised six or more), seemed like a dream compared to the touch system, which was already one of the best for a first person shooter on iOS. It's how a game like this was meant to be played. Targetting was a breeze. Movement seemed much more natural. I flew through the already familiar levels, the dual analog sticks giving me new found precise control. It's like a breath of fresh air. Though the button mapping could be better, it is hopefully fixable in an update to NOVA 3.
Asphalt 7 was likewise a great treat. Really being able to use fine control, the car steering alone is almost worth the $80 cost of the controller. Order and Chaos benefits as well, but perhaps the least of the three.
The Duo Gamer controller will be available in a couple days via the Apple online store and Amazon. The downside is it will set you back $80. Perhaps a bit steep when you consider that's more than the cost of all of the games it supports combined. But, if you are a core gamer, looking for an experience on iOS like you are used to on consoles, it's easier to justify.
We can only hope that this controller will be a huge success and we see Apple loosen the rules around external devices a bit. A universal controller would really be a huge boost to the core gaming segment on iOS. But for now, we at least have this controller for the developer making some of the best FPS games on the App Store. It's a step in the right direction.