UK regulators are investigating Apple's block on Xbox Game Pass

Xbox Cloud Gaming on iOS
(Image credit: Microsoft)

What you need to know

  • The UK Competition and Markets Authority will investigate how Apple and Google dominate the mobile browser market.
  • The same investigation will also look into Apple restricting cloud gaming through its App Store.
  • Xbox Cloud Gaming and other cloud gaming services are only available on iOS devices through a web browser, which limits visibility.

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a market investigation that will look at how Apple and Google dominate the mobile space. Specifically, it will investigate how the two tech giants "exercise a stranglehold over operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices." The investigation will also focus on how Apple restricts cloud gaming through its App Store (via Tom Warren on Twitter).

The launch of the investigation follows consultation by the CMA that illustrated the duopoly that Google and Apple have created in the mobile space. The CMA first announced its plans in June 2022.

While the results of the investigation will likely impact Microsoft's mobile efforts on Android, the more significant impact could relate to Xbox Cloud Gaming on iOS. At the moment, it is only possible to use Xbox Cloud Gaming on iOS through a web browser. This limits visibility, makes it harder for Microsoft to push the service on iOS devices, and affects how gaming revenue can be earned.

Additionally, since all browsers on iOS have to use the Safari rendering engine, Apple has a major effect on cloud gaming through browsers.

"Ultimately, these restrictions limit choice and may make it more difficult to bring innovative new apps to the hands of UK consumers," said the CMA of both Apple and Google. "At the same time, Apple and Google have argued that restrictions are needed to protect users. The CMA’s market investigation will consider these concerns and consider whether new rules are needed to drive better outcomes."

When Xbox Cloud Gaming exited its testing period on iOS, Microsoft shared a statement with us on how Apple handles cloud gaming: 

"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," said Microsoft. "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."

The situation has not changed much since then. Xbox Cloud Gaming is still only accessible on iOS devices through a web browser.

Interim Chief Executive of the CMA Sarag Cardell discussed how the governing body hopes to improve the industry:

"We want to make sure that UK consumers get the best new mobile data services, and that UK developers can invest in innovative new apps."

"Many UK businesses and web developers tell us they feel that they are being held back by restrictions set by Apple and Google. When the new Digital Markets regime is in place, it’s likely to address these sorts of issues. In the meantime, we are using our existing powers to tackle problems where we can. We plan to investigate whether the concerns we have heard are justified and, if so, identify steps to improve competition and innovation in these sectors."

If the investigation reveals a deep-seated issue, specifically an "adverse effect on competition (AEC), the CMA could force Apple and Google's hand. 

"The CMA has wide powers to change the behaviour of firms, such as governing the way a product is sold in a particular market and the information that is available to customers buying that product," explained the CMA.

"The CMA also has the power to impose structural remedies which can require companies to sell parts of their business to improve competition."

Microsoft is also rumored to be building its own mobile app and game store in response to Google and Apple's aggressive behavior across its storefronts, which could bring increased competition to the space. 

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Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate gives you access to Xbox Cloud gaming and a plethora of other benefits. With Xbox Cloud Gaming, you can stream games to your phone, tablet, PC, Xbox console, and many other devices.

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Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com (opens in new tab).