Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Microsoft’s xCloud Unavailable on iOS

Hartley Charlton:

Project xCloud is Microsoft’s “vision for game-streaming technology that will complement our console hardware and give gamers more choices in how and where they play.” xCloud will be bundled as part of the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription for $14.99 per month, with more than 100 games available.

App Store guidelines ban services that rely on streaming games from the cloud. Cloud gaming services, where users stream games live via an internet connection, are growing in popularity.


Steam Link and Sony’s PS4 Remote Play was approved only because the App Store allows remote desktop technology, but it is limited to devices on the same network.

Similar game streaming services Google Stadia and Nvidia GeForce Now are still unavailable on iOS.

Good thing Apple is there to protect us from these…games. One upon a time, Halo made its debut at Macworld Expo. Now, Microsoft is blocked from making it available for Apple’s platform.


Update (2020-08-07): Benjamin Mayo:

Now, let’s assume Apple never released Arcade. This rule is still unsustainable on its own. xCloud and PS Now are going to be popular. xCloud is bundled for free with Game Pass, meaning millions of iPhone owners are going to be frustrated they can’t take advantage of it.


I can’t grasp what the motivation behind the rule is even meant to be. An app that offers a streaming library of music is allowed, like Spotify. An app that offers a streaming library of videos is allowed, like Netflix. What’s different about a streaming library of games?

Jody Sweeton:

They also don’t screen every Citrix, Horizon or Microsoft Remote Desktop app.


And Citrix and Horizon charge user based subscription fees to stream apps that line up with what Microsoft and Google are doing. I am not sure what Apple are worried about. Surely native apps can differentiate against streaming ones.

Nick Statt (Hacker News):

But Apple has finally come out and said, in a statement to Business Insider, that these kinds of cloud services are in violation of App Store guidelines and cannot, in their current forms, ever exist on iOS. The primary reason: they offer access to apps Apple can’t individually review.

Apple then reminds us that customers always have the option of the sweet solution.


Absurd reasoning from Apple since they approved the Steam Link app after requiring Valve remove the ability to purchase games from it. This is a business decision through and through.

Juli Clover:

Microsoft said[…]:

Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. And it consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content.

Peter (via Hacker News):

The upside of a game streaming service is that you don’t need an Xbox or a gaming PC to play them. And you can play on the go. Well, not if you have an Apple device.

Dan Moren:

There’s a lot to unpack there, but let’s just start by noting that the requirement to vet all individual games is, let me be frank, a load of hooey. Apple doesn’t review all the titles available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or any of the myriad of streaming services that have apps on the App Store. Nor does it check every book title available on the Kindle, Nook, or Kobo apps.

Ryan Jones:

They can’t ship their product. Even if they agreed to pay 30%, Apple wants them to sell GamePass as 100 separate games, that’s ridiculous.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

It’s particularly ironic because Apple already did review all those awful micro-transaction slot machine games that the App Store is packed full of! It’s not like the walled garden is full of roses. It’s full of weeds and thorns. Apple has already failed to be curator-in-chief.

Jared Nelson:

As someone who loves his Xbox and is a big believer in things like Game Pass being the future for gaming, this is incredibly disappointing news. I’ve accepted Apple’s strict and often strange restrictions in a number of situations over the years, whether I agreed with them or not, but this decision is really hitting too close to home. Game Pass is going to be a service I subscribe to for a long time, and being able to play all those Game Pass games via xCloud on my iPhone was a huge selling point to me. It’s even harder to swallow in light of the very enticing partnership Microsoft has announced with Samsung during Samsung’s Unpacked event today which sees the new Galaxy Note 20 devices get a special version of the Game Pass app and a bunch of cool additional features.

Update (2020-08-10): Peter Steinberger:

Is Apple blocking VPN and remote terminals next? They also run apps that Apple can’t approve......

John Gruber:

Running this statement through my Applespeak-to-English decoder ring, what I hear is not that they won’t allow Xbox Game Pass because they can’t review each game separately. What I hear is that game streaming services are not allowed in the iOS App Store. Period, full stop.


The point is that streaming video and music services are allowed in the App Store; streaming software (games or otherwise) is not, unless it works over the web. Apple just doesn’t want to say that.

Ryan Jones:

This is so simple. It’s about owning and controlling.

If GamePass joins and becomes popular, then they don’t own or control gaming on iOS.

They don’t want to compete. And they can’t kill it later after it gets popular.

David Barnard:

The xCloud on iOS situation is a perfect encapsulation of the antitrust argument for and against Apple.


I personally think switching costs are high enough to justify antitrust regulation, but I also think there are ways Apple can side-step the switching cost arguments and reduce the scope/likelihood of regulation.

Web-based app distribution as done on macOS (with a certificate signed by Apple) would be one of the most obvious things Apple could do. And they could even limit certain system-level features like Apple Pay for security and competitive reasons.

This would open a pretty big can of worms (like Microsoft/Steam/Facebook creating their own game stores), but at some point Apple needs to put its big person pants on and figure out how to compete on customer/developer experience, not lock-in.

Update (2020-08-11): Marc Palmer (tweet):

I think the whole Apple and MSFT xCloud spat is not really much about MSFT and games and content review. It’s about preventing alternative app stores, which is a longstanding App Store rule.


Once this kind of cloud streaming of games is allowed, it’s not a stretch to think someone else will do this with other kinds of apps.


We all love to complain about how even very large companies don’t bother making native Mac client apps, so we know this “well we can compromise on X to launch quicker and cheaper” attitude is common.


Update (2020-08-17): See also: Rene Ritchie.

1 Comment RSS · Twitter

Upgrade had a good segment on that, particularly around 1:23:19.

It seems Apple has identified the threat of OS/2-ification: it’s great that apps that weren’t written for your platform in particular also happen to run on yours, but at that point, why should developers bother developing for yours in particular, rather than just targeting the lowest common denominator? And at that point, if developers don’t bother, why should customers bother buying an iPad, when an Android tablet does the job?

That threat is real. But the solution isn’t to look apps out or require protection money. It’s to provide a good experience.

One thing I haven’t seen enough in the Tim Cook era is for Apple to be a champion of plain good software. Perhaps the last one of that category was GarageBand on the iPad 2, and that was a Steve Jobs demo (one of his last). It showed (and surprised, and delighted) what the iPad could be. There’s a lot of things that I wish had gone better in the iPad’s first decade (like, uh, not retconning multitasking over and over, and over, and still not nailing it), software-wise, but perhaps the biggest is just the lack of software stewardship. Ship good first-party software. Make a gold standard of what an iPad app should be. Heck, use Apple Arcade to make a gold standard of what an iPad game should be. It won’t make those services like xCloud go away, nor does it need to. It will drive iPad users to demand good games, including on xCloud.

Contrast the first decade of the Mac: it had things like HyperCard, years after the original Mac shipped. (Yes, the iPad has iWork, and that has some pretty cool stuff, but how many people do you foresee saying three decades from now, “man, you know what was a cool app back in the day? Numbers!”) Or the first decade of Mac OS X: consumer apps like the iLife suite and pro apps like Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Motion. Those existed in part to drive adoption and give a benchmark of what a good Mac app should be like. They’re less necessary today because macOS is doing fine (though could be better). They are quite necessary still (and missing), I think, on the iPad.

Do great first-party apps. Also, please for the love of god don’t make them free. Show users and developers that great apps are worth money.

Easy? No. Necessary? Yes. Because otherwise, why not just get a Surface Go?

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