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What Microsoft's Xbox xCloud partnership with Samsung really means

Xcloud Bleeding Edge
Xcloud Bleeding Edge (Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft and Samsung took to the stage at Samsung Unpacked recently to describe how Project xCloud game streaming will gain additional benefits on Samsung Galaxy phones.

With Apple blocking Project xCloud on its iOS devices, Android is now the defacto best platform for Xbox fans, with game streaming set to launch as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate on September 13, 2020. It truly sucks if you're invested in the Apple ecosystem, but Apple's policies block cloud gaming platforms on its store. It's to prevent competition from its own game sales as part of its widespread anti-competitive behavior (that it's currently being investigated for).

In any case, those of us on Android can rest easy that Xbox Game Pass game streaming will be supported. But those of us with Samsung Galaxy devices are getting some additional benefits. Let's explore what they are, and how the partnership is going to help Xbox reach that tens of millions of new customers.

Marketing, or more?

Project xCloud Samsung Unpacked

Source: Samsung (Image credit: Source: Samsung)

Microsoft and Samsung have long been working together to enhance the inter-operability of Galaxy phones and Windows PCs. Samsung phones come embedded with Your Phone connectivity, providing high-level access to your handset via a Windows app called Your Phone. Other Android phones have this too via an app, but Galaxy phones go a bit further with full-blown OS integration.

Announced on stage, Samsung revealed that Your Phone will now let you stream apps from Galaxy phones, and even let you pin them as windows on a PC. There's no word on whether this functionality is exclusive to Galaxy devices at this time. Still, we expect it will eventually roll out to other phones, including Microsoft's own Surface Duo.

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

Where this diverges a bit is with Xbox Game Pass, which is coming to Galaxy phones in a unique way. Those who preorder a Galaxy Note 20 or Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (opens in new tab) will get up to three months of Xbox Game Pass for free, in addition to an optional MOGA controller clip for playing Xbox games on the go. This is marketing, sure, but Galaxy phones have another trick.

One of the issues Microsoft has with Project xCloud is navigating the various store policies of competing platforms. Apple outright blocks other ecosystems from operating within its own. Google has some rules about what handsets can do with Android to still gain access to its Google Play services. Google is also in a monopolistic position, owning the vast majority of the global handset market share, which limits their ability to restrict competitors operating on Android, lest they risk sanctions and anti-trust fines.

Source: Andrew Martonik / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Windows Central)

Microsoft is teaming up with the Samsung Galaxy App Store to offer a unique Xbox Game Pass experience. Xbox gamers who pick up Galaxy phones will also be able to access the wider Xbox Store, with the ability to pick up in-game purchases and buy games and so on. This version of the Xbox Game Pass app will be exclusive to the Galaxy App Store, presumably as a result of getting a better deal than whatever Google might have been offering for a cut of in-app purchases from the Google Play Store. Fortnite also went Galaxy App Store exclusive for a while for similar reasons.

What does all of this mean for Xbox, though? And doesn't restricting itself to app store exclusivity contradict its goal to get Xbox Game Pass everywhere? Not exactly.

Expanding globally, carefully

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Project xCloud and Xbox Game Pass are still relatively new ventures. Game Pass sits at over 10 million subscribers right now, but all of those are effectively already in the Xbox ecosystem. For Microsoft to grow Xbox as a platform, they need to reach beyond consoles and traditional markets. Samsung will help Microsoft achieve this in a measured way, while Microsoft continues to monitor network performance and server expansion. Don't forget that Project xCloud is powered by Xbox One S consoles right now, but will most likely be upgraded to more powerful Xbox Series X architecture in the future.

To align Xbox with Galaxy smartphones is a smart play with no downsides.

Microsoft has already described previously how Asian markets have responded strongly to Project xCloud in testing, making Korean powerhouse Samsung a natural fit to expand in those regional markets. It could be that Xbox Game Pass streaming finds its core audience outside of the West, where traditional console gaming has generally become fairly weak.

This is a potential win-win scenario for Western Xbox gamers since any potential subscription boom will help subsidize console hardware in Western markets, which will undoubtedly remain popular (I actually heard recently that the successor for the Xbox Series X is already being explored).

There's been a lot of talk about whether or not Microsoft will drop Xbox Live Gold multiplayer paywall subscriptions as a way to differentiate itself from PlayStation in the ever-evolving console war. The firm recently came out and said that it has no plans to change how Xbox Live Gold functions, but that doesn't mean the future is set in stone.

I firmly believe that when Xbox Game Pass reaches a critical mass, it will make Xbox Live Gold obsolete. Expansion across mobile devices to new users who don't even own console hardware is a sure-fire way to help this process expedite. Samsung is a massive player in the mobile space, setting standards that others follow. To align Xbox with Galaxy smartphones is a smart play with no downsides.

Another step in a long road

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

Growing xCloud to a point where it becomes "the norm" to expect its presence is probably years away. Still, the fact we have games like Halo Infinite on the horizon, as a free-to-play title, may undoubtedly help drive subscriptions among players who want to keep playing on the go. Also, the rollout of 5G will make cloud-based game streaming a more viable option in the coming months and years ahead.

Microsoft is well-placed to grow with this market, and the partnership with Samsung will not only help Xbox find new customers in markets that don't resonate with consoles anymore, but it'll help subsidize the depreciation of Xbox Live Gold as an outdated concept.

Xbox Game Streaming

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Jez Corden is a Senior 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!

28 Comments
  • And maybe now that they're done promoting their services on Samsung's new phone, they can start taking pre-orders for the Duo. Maybe.
  • waiting for the surface duo
  • Just think of 1 thing Jez! Imagine how crazy it would be to have Xcloud App with Xbox game pass right into your Samsung TV... Elite series 2 controller plugued in with XGP and you're gtg! In 4k@60
  • Streaming Xcloud into your tv ftw! If you cant afford a XSX
  • I guess/think Android TVs will work with the app. Anyone had the option to try it? Is the app available for TVs?
  • I haven't tried it with Android TV but xCloud via Dex on my Samsung TV is amazing! To me, including the app on Samsung TVs is the next step.
  • This is a neat idea that I need to try.
  • Microsoft's big challenge in the mobile space was how to recover from the Window Phone debacle in such a manner that their efforts contributed to the larger strategic goal of having a viable mobile presence without controlling an operating system or having any hardware. That is a tough nut to crack but Microsoft seems to have done exactly that by essentially co-opting Android with the launcher and a wide range of high quality and useful apps. Apple is a much tougher proposition because of the tight control they maintain still it is quite possible to have something resembling a Windows phone on Android and iOS. The next move was to get Your Phone working robustly which they have done on Android. I have a Google Pixel 3a XL and I find myself using the app quite often to write text messages from one of my PCs with the added bonus that everything is synchronized all the time. When I saw that Microsoft and Samsung had partnered on a Your Phone version specific to Galaxy phones I was highly intrigued and now that you can run your Android apps on a PC via Your Phone from a Galaxy, that partnership finally bore some significant fruit. From Samsung’s perspective they now have an exclusive differentiating feature that skips having to deal with Google that gets scale: it is going to be on millions of PCs. Microsoft on the other end of the deal also gets to bypass Google and gets a significant feature on millions of mobile phones. The key value for Microsoft is they are building a functioning mobile story without controlling the OS or the Hardware. And with Xbox xCloud on Galaxy this mutually beneficial relationship is further extended into gaming. It is a strategic win for both sides. Samsung gains gaming at a level that can compete with Apple and Google without having to invest millions of dollars and years of effort into an area where their skill set is second class; yes, Bixby I am thinking of you. Microsoft gets the Xbox franchise on the millions of phones Samsung sells thereby extending their gaming footprint. With this kind of clout, it is no wonder Apple is doing everything it can to frustrate Microsoft gaming on the Apple platform. If Microsoft gains access to Apple's platform, they suddenly look like a gaming market leader without, once again, controlling an OS or having hardware of their own. And for extra credit, here comes the Surface Duo. Hopefully it too will have that Android on PC hook up. Intriguing? You bet. All I can conclude is someone, two, or three at Microsoft has been executing on a business plan now for years and it is finally starting to become evident that it is a brilliant plan. Did I mention they did all this without controlling the OS and with zero hardware of their own?
  • For hardcore Microsoft fans this is Windows Phone 2.5. If you live or die by Microsoft services then buying a Samsung Android phone is a good idea (of any style or colour, apart from that hideous bronze) and why wouldnt you? They're really good! One wonders if this will work both ways? Windows has a massive install base and a lot of data acquisition potential. Cortana is a dead duck: Microsoft don't want to hand all that data to Google or Amazon. Will we see Bixby on Windows 10 in the next year? For Samsung a reliance on Google to sell phones is a weakness Microsoft can exploit to their own end and the benefit of consumers.
  • This is me. Totally in on the MS ecosystem. Maybe one of the last users of Windows Phone when my beloved 950xl died. Samsung definately eased the transition. I'm wondering if MS is concidering adding Office to the Samsung Store. Frankly if I can get an app somewhere other than the Play Store I am. Samsung, Amazon, whatever.
  • "What Microsoft's Xbox xCloud partnership with Samsung really means" Nothing.
    Nobody cares about game streaming.
  • Yeah, right. There's a whole segment there that interest in the Asian market was high during testing, so there's obviously a ton of people who cares about game streaming. I for one find the idea fascinating and am very excited to be able to play whatever games I have on my console while riding on a train on my way to work again. Good try though.
  • If it was so great you and others would have signup for the countless services that exist today and have existed for over 10 years. There is no real demand for game streaming, its nothing new.
  • No but fast enough internet connections is new. And since Xcloud is free with Game Pass Ultimate I can see many taking advantage of the extra features.
  • I don't know what you mean by fast enough. Bandwidth has gotten larger pipes but the speed to get a packet from host to destination hasn't really changed much over 20 years. Latency is based on number of hops, type of hops and speed of light limitations.
  • Wrong. The technology has advanced leaps and bounds the last 10 years. I care because I don't want to haul my XBOX with me on the road. I can simply bring a Tablet (or eventually a Laptop) and play XBOX. I've been looking forward to this service going live since it was announced.
  • Don't know what you mean by advanced, all it is.... compression of video and than sending input controls back. Actually remote play worked on PS3 for limited amount of games back in 2006, checkout youtube.
  • Seriously, none of them had Azure to back them up. Cloud computing has advanced leaps and bounds just in tbe las couple years.
  • Not sure what this means, I assume you are not a developer. Game or cloud streaming is essentially the same over the last 15 years, although some compression is better. Latency is not better and probably never will be i.e. laws of the universe.
  • So cloud gaming and demand was the same as when there weren't even smart phones and tablets? Suuuuuure.
  • There really isn't much demand for game streaming. Sony PS Now was already on TVs, PCs, phones, tablets, vitas, consoles, etc. Not much demand so they scaled back. Google Stadia has no real demand and they are on types of devices as well, nobody really gives a crap. Suuuuuuurrrre.
  • I am on the fence on game streaming. If I'm home, I have many Xbox devices in my house, so no need there. I do travel a lot for work (or at least I used to before the pandemic, and I will again someday), but have some concerns. First, I live in the US, but much of my travel is international, so I am worried that the service won't work. I'm also very often out of any kind of internet connection while driving in remote areas, on planes or on trains. I think there is a market for this, but also, it's not for everyone.
  • I have an iPhone. I was part of the XCloud 10,000 that got to test it. Now that Apple is not going to allow XCloud on their iPhone's and iPad's I'm likely to switch to Android & Samsung. Granted the only downfall is my family all have iPhones. I'll have to find a replacement for Facetime/iMessage. Wish I didn't have to switch. Thanks Apple.
  • Teams for life instead of FaceTime and imessage?... Not the same experience... But soemthing at least for the family? 🤔
  • You may want to reconsider. I'm a lifelong Android fan but iPhone/iOS is hands down the better experience. It's faster, smoother, consistent updates/OS upgrades for at least 5 years plus the apps always work better and have more features on iOS. Samsung you'll get 2 years of OS upgrades plus 3 years of security updates. But you'll be waiting a long time for that.
  • To be fair, Apple aren't blocking services like xCloud from their platform. What they are doing is insisting that those services treat every game as a separate app and run it through Apple's validation process and, presumably, give Apple a cut of each purchase. I'm not 100% sure what that would mean for something like xCloud and Game Pass, where the games are not purchased individually and the service may be purchased on a different platform. They are certainly trying to extort money for doing nothing and are almost certainly trying to protect their own service but I think that it's important to be honest about what their actual actions are. Apple didn't block xCloud from the App Store. They just setup a situation where Microsoft felt that their only option was to withdraw it.
  • Kind of agree here. Microsoft is setting up a client in which they can run any software(game) through the client they want without regard to apple agreements, licensing, approval, control, and fees. Its no different than on the Xbox i.e. licensing. Its not extortion, its licensing, exactly the same on Xbox. The only thing that's confusing is why people are confused including Microsoft since a good portion of their business is licensing. Yes, if Microsoft went through the licensing process for each title there probably wouldn't a problem, same on Xbox or Playstation or Nintendo or TVS, etc.
  • Hey Jez, what is the device in the first picture?