Microsoft, it's time to speak up about Project xCloud on iOS

Xbox Project xCloud
Xbox Project xCloud (Image credit: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

Microsoft recently set a date for its game streaming debut, with Project xCloud scheduled for public availability on September 15. The technology joins its existing Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service, its monthly subscription for Xbox games, with cloud gaming to be included at no additional cost for users. That brings over 100 Xbox One titles to mobile devices, but at least in its initial iteration, eyes only an Android release.

The reasoning is clear — iPhone development is at a standstill due to Apple and its policies. It comes amid rising developer tensions, with a recent tech antitrust hearing dragging top CEOs for perceived monopolies. But even with Apple in the hot seat, there's no resolution in sight.

Microsoft pushes ahead with Project xCloud on Android, leaving iOS users in the dark

Project xCloud for iOS

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While Project xCloud trials on Android soon advance to the Xbox Game Pass subscription, the two-year timeline has seen little progress on its iOS counterpart. While Microsoft invested in its game-streaming backend throughout the decade, closed testing kicked off exclusively through Android devices, despite instances of functional iPhone prototypes. Project xCloud saw a limited iOS test a few months later, but capped at just 10,000 participants, with only one playable game.

In the following months, little has changed. While the Android version now boasts over 100 playable titles, iOS devices only have "Halo: The Master Chief Collection." The Android version receives updates on a steady cadence, while the iPhone has only received minor bug fixes and performance tweaks. The latest preview build also shutters on August 5 (in a few hours, as of publication) due to an automatic Apple-enforced expiry date on all TestFlight apps, signifying 90 days without an update on iOS. Once expired, the app will cease to function.

Project xCloud for iOS is left stagnant, while Microsoft pushes forward on its Android rollout. We understand the lack of updates appears to be the direct result of Apple's App Store policies, as further backed by a recent Bloomberg report. Cupertino policy prevents Microsoft from hosting third-party properties through its storefront, while also barring catalogs of multiple games in a single app. That provides the platform holder with full oversight on iOS app distribution, generating a seemingly insurmountable hurdle for Xbox.

Microsoft has also failed to expand its initial iOS testing group, still capped at just 10,000 users. While Redmond isn't talking specifics, that number comes from restrictions on the TestFlight developer platform, with a strict limit on active testers. It once again appears Microsoft has been unable to exceed that count, putting Project xCloud expansions on hold.

US Antitrust Hearing 29 07

Source: House Judiciary Committee (Image credit: Source: House Judiciary Committee)

Apple's tight grip on iOS and the iPhone has caught the spotlight as of late, compounded with the recent antitrust hearing in late July. Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon all pushed back on claims of anti-competitive practices, with Apple CEO Tim Cook defending the company's App Store and fair opportunities for developers. But documents shared by the House Antitrust Subcommittee included examples of a backdoor deal between Apple and Amazon, halving the usual 30% revenue share for Amazon Prime. Apple also enjoys free roam on its platform, with its Apple Music and Apple Arcade services pushed above external rivals.

The future of Project xCloud is uncertain, due to our Apple-Google duopoly.

Apple, often described as a "gatekeeper" to the iPhone and its broader iOS ecosystem, continues to impose a variety of strict guidelines on developers. Various apps are mandated to use Apple's payment tools and take the 30% hit, although with exceptions for "reader" apps when accessing previous purchases. That births creative workarounds, with Netflix no longer providing in-app subscriptions or Spotify raising iOS on-device pricing. Most recently, apps like Basecamp's Hey email fight to stay online, with a commendable response from CTO David Heinemeier Hansson to fuel these conversations.

Xbox Game Pass Booth

Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

But for Microsoft's game streaming struggles, it's not alone. Google's Stadia and Nvidia's GeForce Now also face similar hurdles, unable to expand into that crucial mobile segment. And in the past, Apple formerly blocked Steam Link, which enables PC gamers to stream titles via their home network, with the app inaccessible until 2019.

Apple argues its platform doesn't stifle app development, and competition keeps the platform in check. But that's far from the truth, with well-documented cases of developers bending the rules to keep their mobile endeavors alive. It's all familiar ground here, and the outcome is still solely in Apple's control.

An inability to hit the iPhone and iPad locks out a sizeable market across all regions. Even with impressive technology to back, it's far from the ubiquity Microsoft needs to deliver.

I understand Microsoft's decision to stay quiet, with the company unlikely to go on the record bashing Apple, especially if negotiations remain underway. But the future of Project xCloud is uncertain, with its mobile-first approach to cloud gaming hampered by the OS duopoly. It's not just Microsoft, and we need more voices for something to change.

Xbox Game Streaming

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Matt Brown is Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

22 Comments
  • It's not on Microsoft to speak about Apples problems with xCloud and similar services. It's Apple that needs to speak up and to deliver better rules.
  • Exactly. I really don't know what is expected of Microsoft here. If Apple believes this is 'best' for their so-called ecosystem, then that's fine. And if their customers are okay with that (which from all indications, it appears they are), it only proves Apple's position on this is sustainable. This is a free market, and fortunately, there's a very viable and thriving alternative - Android. So, it's not a question of a monopoly (actually a duopoly, but that's still better). Microsoft should focus their energy and resources on pushing and developing xCloud on the Android platform, and when Win10X comes along, push it on that as well. No loss here imho.
  • It's tiresome to hear always criticism against Microsoft even with things like these when it's someone else's fault. Apple don't want Xcloud, won't allow it. Well, end of the problem. Apple won't have Xcloud, so people who want Xcloud will have to get non-Apple products. It's just that simple, and it's what this backwards exclusivity mentality like fellow Sony wackos love to enforce. Eventually people will understand. Also, definitely there's no burden on MS to call Apple out. MS don't have to rescue anyone, and Xcloud is not an essential service. And will do fine without being available for IOS. So screw Apple.
  • Couldn't have said it better. This is overall a non-issue imho.
  • Not having access to half the US market is a bit of an issue. It is a big issue actually. Not supporting iOS could be very detrimental to the service.
  • No it's not in the 'free' mobile market. Anyone really interested in xCloud will get an Android device, just like I got a Switch despite having an XB1/X and PS4 Pro because I wanted Mario and Zelda. This cannot be forced imho. If Apple doesn't want it, and their customers are satisfied with it, then it is a non-issue because there are viable alternatives and xCloud will be successful without iOS. This only creates openings for new players.
  • That's silly and is a cop out for the actual problem. It shouldn't be on consumers to solve the issue. The whole point of Xcloud is to give players the ability to play on all devices and eventually play without buying any additional devices (even controllers).
  • Bill Gates rescues Apple when Steve Jobs returnedbgrim Pixar and look what it done for Apple... Saved them and basically made Apple the successful company it is today and now Apple doesn't want to allow xCloud on their platform. To think, if it wouldn't have been for Bill Gates bailing them out Apple might not exist today... Talk about irony! All everyone does is bash MS and doesn't think about what MS did for Apple
  • The IPhone only has 25% marketshare worldwide. So it makes sense to concentrate on the 75% Android marketshare first.
  • Not only that really, I'd rather Microsoft not spend any energy and resources dragging this out. Better they channel all those resources into polishing the quality of the xCloud services on Android and Windows (particularly when 10X comes along). Customers who are really interested will find their way to Android and 10X.
  • This is all on Apple's side. They're the ones closing their doors to these new services. So it's a non issue. Apple keeps being Apple, and whoever wants to enjoy the benefits of Xcloud, get the hell out of the Apple ecosystem. They sure don't care about what their users want, they just want to tell them what to buy. So buy that Apple Arcade crap and be happy for it. It's what you locked yourself into for using an Apple phone.
  • I don't think I care what MS has to say about it. I wouldn't care if it wasn't Apple's fault either. You can't own an iOS device only and wanting xCloud anyways. If you don't have an xCloud-enabled OS under your hands, you probably either only want a better command line experience or a camera filter that puts spiders in your mouth and produces a talking pile of 5h1+.
  • If Microsoft only had their own mobile OS...
  • Still wouldn't fix this issue, but yeah sneak that in wherever you can!
  • This should be a call to Apple, not Microsoft.
  • Nobody speaks about PC. Where is the PC apps that lets you play your games through the cloud?
    By the way, it's time for a real name for Project Xcloud
  • I wouldn't mind the name Xcloud... I like it haha
  • Buy a samsung phone and stop whining. No one is forcing you to use an iphone.
  • Simple good answer. The whole thing is a non-issue imho. Not worth the effort at all, I'd rather focus on delivering excellent xCloud services on the available platform - Android.
  • Apple that prevents a good ecosystem once again.... If they don't change their Apple Store policies I don't see what Microsoft can do here...
  • Microsoft can pay up.
  • Apple is terrified of this. If someone can stream a full/real game instead of downloading it (Fortnite 1gb+) then Apple can’t overcharge you for higher storage models. They have also been trying to crack the gaming code without any resolve and are worried about another google infiltration. Sorry Apple but this is anticompetitive and will hold our technology back for years unless you allow this tech to flourish! Think about streaming an entire legacy windows build from Microsoft servers! I need that NOW!