What you need to know
- Microsoft's upcoming Xbox Game Pass cloud gaming service hits Android on September 15, but remains absent from iOS-based mobile devices.
- The company recently wrapped closed testing on iOS, in parallel to widespread developer scrutiny over Apple's tight regulations for content on its App Store digital marketplace.
- "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," Apple states.
- Microsoft has responded to Apple's claims, telling Windows Central "Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming," and "consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps."
While Microsoft recently outlined plans to bring its Xbox Project xCloud game-streaming tech to mobile devices, its arrival on iOS has entered a stalemate. Cloud gaming soon hits its Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription featuring many of the best games on Xbox, scheduled to launch for Android devices on September 15, but Redmond has fallen silent on the status of its iPhone and iPad endeavors. That comes as the company wrangles App Store policies, with developer guidelines barring apps like its Xbox One streaming service from the curated digital storefront.
Project xCloud's iOS struggles fell into the spotlight on Wednesday, with Microsoft winding down public trials on the platform after three months without updates. Android testers have gained access to over 100 compatible titles in short of one year, yet its iOS counterpart featured just one playable title, while tied to 10,000 participants. The former is the result of Apple's regulations on iOS game distribution, while its small install base pushed the limits of the TestFlight developer platform.
Microsoft confirmed plans to postpone its iOS testing, and we've now seen Apple respond to mounting scrutiny. Cupertino expanded on its reasoning behind blocking Project xCloud for iOS, citing its policies and review process in a statement. We've reached out to Microsoft for comment, and we'll update this article accordingly.
"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," an Apple representative reportedly stated. "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."
Update August 6 (8:23 p.m. ET) — Microsoft responds
Microsoft has broken its silence on the recent challenges facing Project xCloud for iOS, kicking back at Apple-imposed restrictions through its App Store. The company tells Windows Central it has no path to bring Xbox Game Pass' cloud gaming component to iPhone and iPad, reiterating its own robust review processes. It claims Apple continues to "deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services," drawing attention to unfair handling of gaming apps over alternate entertainment categories.
"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," Microsoft stated. "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."
The conflict comes at an inflection point for Microsoft's Xbox platform, establishing the foundation for its next-generation console, and an intertwined cloud gaming vision. Project xCloud wraps almost one decade of investment in its game-streaming technologies, and while still headed to other platforms, its iOS absence holds back Xbox moving forward.
Apple doesn't look set to budge, further complicated by its recent antitrust hearing, with Amazon, Google, and Facebook also present. It saw Apple CEO Tim Cook push back on allegations of anti-competitive business practices, defending its mandatory revenue-share policy for the integrated App Store. Documents shared by the House Antitrust Subcommittee also exposed a backdoor deal between Apple and Amazon to reduce the cut, leaving Apple unlikely to let Microsoft slip by.
It leaves no clear resolution in sight, with Apple unwilling to ease its grip on the iPhone, despite continued claims of anti-competitive actions. It puts a crucial component of Microsoft's next steps for Xbox on hold, while Apple looks to uphold the tight curation over its mobile platform.