Progress on Project xCloud, Microsoft's upcoming mobile game streaming platform for Xbox games, has seemingly hit a brick wall. Cloud gaming joins its existing Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription on September 15, and while primed for its Android launch, the future on iOS remains much less certain. With its iPhone and iPad trials stagnant for months, and Apple's restrictive policies increasingly scrutinized, Microsoft has struggled to land within the walled garden. And now, it's deadlocked.
Project xCloud on Android has received regular updates over one year of testing, boasting over 100 playable Xbox One games, with Microsoft now confident to charge within its Xbox Game Pass offerings. The iOS counterpart launched barebones, with one playable game, and limited to just 10,000 testing participants. The situation hasn't improved over that six-month timeline, limited to sporadic bug fixes, with no new content.
Public trials have now come to a halt on iOS, with its latest Project xCloud app build having expired on August 5, 2020. That follows 90 consecutive days without an update to the pre-release app via the TestFlight developer platform, and as per Apple policy, the app has automatically expired for all 10,000 testers. Users attempting to open the Project xCloud iOS app are greeted with an expiration notice, with the app ceasing to function. While the Project xCloud Android preview will shutter ahead of launch, that's not scheduled until September 11.
Microsoft remains quiet on Project xCloud for iOS, yet the spotlight has fallen on what appears to be the result of restrictive App Store policies. Apple, often described as a "gatekeeper" to the iPhone and its broader iOS ecosystem, faces growing pressure from mobile developers. That follows a recent antitrust hearing, with Congress questioning CEOs from Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google over alleged anti-competitive practices.
Microsoft isn't the only one impacted by Apple's tight hold on the iPhone, with Google's Stadia and NVIDIA's GeForce Now also subject to the same hurdles. The mandated 30% revenue share (or drop to 15% in year two) introduces barriers for any subscription app, with some seeking creative workarounds on iOS. Apple also bars developers hosting third-party properties and catalogs of multiple games through its storefront, both in conflict with Project xCloud's vision.
While hopes never looked high for Project xCloud on iOS, recent developments show Apple isn't budging anytime soon. Existing policies prevent the next wave of subscription-based game libraries from touching the ecosystem, and whether intentional or not, also holding back competitors to its own Apple Arcade service.
The move leaves Microsoft in a tough spot, currently pursuing Project xCloud through a mobile-first approach. Disruptions to that initial rollout have singled out Android as its exclusive launch platform, partnering with Samsung to accelerate growth. But for Apple, it's the same case but a different name — the question is whether things will change.