What Apple's move to block Steam Link on iOS could mean for Xbox cloud streaming

Valve released Steam Link for iOS a little while ago, allowing PC gamers to play their games on a compatible iOS device, streamed via their PC on a home network. But Apple didn't like it.

Despite passing through the app review team's checks, the powers that be at Apple struck the app down, citing a potential business conflict. How might this impact other types of game streaming apps, like the long-rumored cloud-based gaming service being built by Xbox? Read on.

Valve and Steam vs. Apple

Valve released a statement (via SteamDB), describing what went down.

On Monday May 7th, Apple approved the Steam Link app for release. On Weds, May 9th, Valve released news of the app. The following morning, Apple revoked its approval citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team. Valve appealed, explaining the Steam Link app simply functions as a LAN-based remote desktop similar to numerous remote desktop applications already available on the App Store. Ultimately, that appeal was denied, leaving the Steam Link app for iOS blocked from release. The team here spent many hours on this project and the approval process, so we're clearly disappointed. But we hope Apple will reconsider in the future.

Apple's anti-competitive stance on this matter is disappointing, but not unsurprising. Clearly, the company sees the potential for a loss of revenue, because if people can access real games from a PC on their mobile devices they might stop buying the Candy Crush microtransactions that form a huge chunk of Apple's app store revenue.

The oddity here, is, that this is simply a LAN-based home solution. Those gamers who will want this are already core gamers who already own a Steam library and a decent PC rig to run it on. It's unlikely those types of gamers are spending tons of cash on Apple "games" on their phones and tablets anyway. So if Apple is this bullish on a simple LAN-based remote desktop gaming app, how might it react to something like Xbox cloud streaming, or Sony's PlayStation Now?

Streaming from Xbox to Windows 10 Mobile over LAN is possible using the dev tools.

Streaming from Xbox to Windows 10 Mobile over LAN is possible using the dev tools.

It's perhaps telling that PlayStation Now isn't already available on iOS. You can achieve remote play for console and PC games in some cases on iOS using third-party solutions like TeamViewer, but there are no official solutions from the big companies.

You have to imagine that Apple might want some form of financial cut to make these features a reality since it effectively allows access to a third-party game store "trojan horse" on Apple's mobile devices. Apple probably looks at the relative openness of Android and Windows with disdain, and perhaps for good reason. Microsoft has no control over the PC games market on its own platform thanks to Steam, and the fact Google's Android platform can be forked led to it completely losing certain markets, notably China, where third-party tech giants like Baidu and Tencent dominate distribution with their own Android app stores.

Xbox implications

Where does that leave the Xbox division for its cloud gaming aspirations? It could simply be that Microsoft continues to focus on Android. Redmond is able to get its tendrils into Android far more easily than it can with iOS, because you can change the default launcher, digital assistant, web browser, and more. Of course, there's no reason Google couldn't just block the app, too, but given Google's vast market share, that could raise the eyebrows of regulators, particularly in the EU. Perhaps Redmond simply works with Apple to bring streaming across, even if it means giving a cut of the cash to the company.

In any case, the fact Microsoft that gave up its mobile aspirations once again throws complexity into its plans. If Microsoft managed to establish a phone foothold with Windows when smartphones started to take off, it wouldn't have to rely on iOS and Android to access users on those devices. Valve is also struggling to figure out where it expands now, since it has effectively saturated the PC market, while mobile phones remain an untapped market for core "AAA" games.

Cloud streaming is going to bring huge disruption to the gaming market in the same way Spotify streaming upended music and Netflix streaming is changing the TV landscape. As Amazon and others line up their cloud infrastructure to corner the gaming side of things, it remains to be seen how Valve, and especially Microsoft, will tap the mobile market with their respective game stores.

See Steam Link TV at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

30 Comments
  • If Microsoft was smart, they would pounce on this, partner up with Steam a bit more and get the app on mobile.... Their new Andromeda thing released at the same time. Boast about the mobile foldable tablet thingy running Win10ARM or whatever it will be, and how great the screen will be for this type of game play that Apple dropped the ball on. MS would need a lot more going for it, but its a start. But they won't do this, I know that.
  • Maybe you missed the part where Gabe flipped desk when it came to Microsoft including a store front in Windows 10, and steam going off on a jolly good time creating those fabled Steam machines. I think the love lost here is Valves for Microsoft because of the exact same reason of Apple. They're scared Microsoft is going to take over as the game provider. When Valve is all about selling games now, not even making their own, it's a huge risk for them. Still, it would have been nice if Microsoft somehow allowed you to link in your Steam account to the Windows Store, and have them combine the efforts a little easier so it didn't feel like a one sided effort to remaster 'Games for Windows Live' on the PC by Microsoft under the guise of Xbox branding nor a App store front... I don't think anyone wanted that.
  • Valve should look at EA, here, then. EA has their own store (Origin). They've historically been very adamant about owning the customer relationship (even going all the way back to the original Xbox Live; EA balked for the first year or so of its life because they wanted to own the customer relationship rather than Microsoft, and Microsoft worked with them to make that happen). Yet they also sell their games on Microsoft's store while they won't sell them on Steam. And they even partner with Microsoft on EA Access. People may not like EA, but at least they know how to interact with their peers without being babies about it. Gaben needs to learn that, and maybe this taste of Apple doing to them what they've done to so many others will be the wakeup call they need. Probably not, though.
  • I remember what happened during Windows 8, but I don't think Gabe could flip a desk even if he tried. He tried the Steam Machines and they didn't really work as expected. Time has past and I'm pretty sure Valve knows Windows is the only thing keeping them going. They already introduced streaming from PC to PC. I can use it in my own home. I can do it on Android. Apple won't have any of it, but I bet Microsoft will if they're smart and bring it along with Andromeda. And if MS welcomes any other streaming service, that will only make them stronger in this regard where Apple drops the ball.
  • I'd say stream machines performed exactly as expected. At least, anybody with a clue. Epic flop, end of story.
  • Valve is not scared of windows 10 store. Windows 10 store is total trash. Remember games for windows live? What happened when that failed? Mostly if not everyone transferred there games to steam. I think it was the Xbox one that pissed steam off if not then the 360 and so valve became extremely friendly with Sony with cross platform playing and everything. What Apple is doing is here is trying to make things harder for the consumer as usual
  • Uh... not really needed, as that's what in-home streaming does now. install steam and it'll see all your other PCs with steam installed when using the same account. Stream away.
  • Gabe hates MS.
  • When it comes to mobile, Microsoft under Suckya Nutella won't do anything intelligent with their own platforms. They also won't do anything that requires long term commitment and directed effort, nor marketing. They want to drop things on the market, explain nothing, tell no one, then shrug and walk away when nobody adopts it. Microsoft has no will.
  • Can't wait till they remove Spotify citing "business conflict".
  • It's great to see apple digging their own hole, couldn't happen sooner!
  • All app stores would be failures without games. Games are 60-65% of all revenues in app stores. It's the main reason MS will never be able to fully monetize Windows unless they buy Steam or change the game with cloud streaming across devices becoming popular with consumers. There is no way in hell Apple is going to approve real AAA games streamed to their devices that could never be released on their devices due to weak hardware. This would make the games in their store irrelevant by comparison lol
  • It's not exactly about the presence of games in an app store, but the ability to stream them to a device, in this case an apple one. And now apple as cut the app that is used to stream the games from your Steam library on your PC to your apple device Different thing
  • What are you complaining about? I thought you all had windows phones
  • According to market charge, that's like 5 people.
  • They have Suface phones with Andromeda.
  • Bit of an idiotic statement to make, a lot of people have Android devices but still use Windows on their desktops, laptops and tablets. I still have a Lumia 950XL around primarily for its camera but use a Nokia 8 as my primary device.
  • Apple is walking on the edge of the EU laws. Decisions that are strictly made to hinder/destroy competition, or to keep monopoly are not allowed in EU and can be punished.
  • Except of course, Apple does not have monopoly and is not destroying competition either.
  • Are Apple that stupid? It seems that they are.
  • Well yes, when you think that Apple phones still can't send a file to another phone over Bluetooth. Its 2018, I had a phone that could do that 15 years ago
  • Or NFC, if I Remember the experience with my sons iphone. It's just dumb that their devices are that closed off.
  • Closed off can be a good thing but only if it's done right, look at Windows Phone when it allowed emulators onto the store as an example.
  • They just recently implemented things that are industry standards like nfc and Bluetooth
  • Consider that, you still cannot choose Wifi AP within the quick setting (and you there's no direct link to Setting too). Still no share-api, etc, etc.
    A simple task on Android requires a lota more steps on iOS. On Mac, user finally have the ability to resize-window-from-any-corner in 2012... I don't know the about the older ones but I think win95 has that.
  • Resizing a Window from any corner was available back in Windows 2.0 as far as I can remember so yes, Apple is and always will be late to the party and not fashionably either.
  • Well they do have Airdrop but that is specific to Apple devices.
  • Microsoft is much smarter then Valve. They will surely find a way around.
  • I've tried this on my Nokia 8 paired with an Xbox One controller and it works really well, too bad iOS users won't get to use this.
  • Where can I find that controller/Lumia 950XL hook up you have pictures in the article at???