Microsoft's Project xCloud game streaming service has just wrapped up its iOS beta, and while a September 15 launch for Android has been confirmed as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate - along with extra rewards and features available for Samsung device owners via the Galaxy Store - there was no word on when it might go live for iPhone users.
After halting the iOS xCloud beta, it was suspected that Microsoft had run into issues with Apple's store policies, but the speculation is over - both companies have released statements on xCloud's future on iOS, and it's not looking good for users in Apple's ecosystem.
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In a statement to Business Insider, Apple confirmed that its current guidelines prohibit game streaming services like Google Stadia or Project xCloud from existing on the App Store because Apple is unable to review each individual game available on the Game Pass service:
"The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers.
"Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store."
As the outlet points out, streaming services like Netflix and Spotify are able to exist in the App Store without running each piece of content on their platforms by Apple - but the distinction apparently lies in the fact that games are an interactive medium.
Microsoft has since commented on the issue in a statement to The Verge, calling out Apple for "consistently [treating] gaming apps differently," applying stricter rules to the medium, and preventing users from enjoying cloud gaming and game subscription services - like its Xbox Game Pass:
"Our testing period for the Project xCloud preview app for iOS has expired. Unfortunately, we do not have a path to bring our vision of cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to gamers on iOS via the Apple App Store. 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.
"All games available in the Xbox Game Pass catalog are rated for content by independent industry ratings bodies such as the ESRB and regional equivalents. We are committed to finding a path to bring cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to the iOS platform. We believe that the customer should be at the heart of the gaming experience and gamers tell us they want to play, connect and share anywhere, no matter where they are. We agree."
This kerfuffle is reminiscent of cross-platform play, with Fortnite ushering in the unprecedented new normal. Sony dragged its feet while Nintendo and Microsoft jumped on board, and Microsoft released a similar statement at the time, highlighting its commitment to the consumer experience in much the same way. Sony eventually caved after much hand-wringing about safety on its platform - but will we see Apple do the same?
The company has the launch of the iPhone 12 coming up, going head-to-head against Samsung's new range of Galaxy devices, unveiled at Unpacked. Samsung has been courting gamers for a while now with its collaborations - namely with Epic Games, offering unique skins and rewards in Fortnite.
We know that the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra will be optimised for xCloud, so anyone looking into gaming-on-the-go has every reason to pick up a Galaxy device, and less incentive to opt for the iPhone 12. Even iPhone 11 users might want to think twice before deciding which direction to go in when upgrading their handset.
The future of gaming is undoubtedly heading toward streaming as 5G rolls out and the infrastructure to offer adequate support falls into place, so Apple needs to reassess its policies if it doesn't want to lose consumers to its competitors.
Source: The Verge