Cloud gaming is shaping up to have a big moment on mobile starting this month with the launch of Microsoft’s xCloud service, but iOS users are getting left out. And now we know exactly why: Apple won’t allow those products, because of strict App Store guidelines that makes cloud services like xCloud and its competitor, Google Stadia, effectively impossible to operate on the iPhone.
We already knew that there was some issue, likely App Store-related, as to why Stadia wasn’t available for Apple devices and why Microsoft’s service would likely face a similar fate. It seemed even more likely that xCloud’s fate on iOS was sealed yesterday when Microsoft cut off iOS testing for its xCloud app well ahead of its September 15th launch date on Android. Nvidia’s GeForce Now service is also similarly Android-only when it comes to phones, even though that platform technically lets you access titles you already own.
But Apple has finally come out and said that these kinds of cloud services are in violation of App Store guidelines and cannot, in their current forms, ever exist on iOS. The primary reason: they offer access to apps Apple can’t individually review.
Here’s the official Apple statement:
"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. 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."
Here’s the statement from a Microsoft in full:
" 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. 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."
Apple is pretty explicit about all of this in the App Store guidelines, specifically section 4.2.7:
4.2.7 Remote Desktop Clients: If your remote desktop app acts as a mirror of specific software or services rather than a generic mirror of the host device, it must comply with the following:
(a) The app must only connect to a user-owned host device that is a personal computer or dedicated game console owned by the user, and both the host device and client must be connected on a local and LAN-based network.
(b) Any software or services appearing in the client are fully executed on the host device, rendered on the screen of the host device, and may not use APIs or platform features beyond what is required to stream the Remote Desktop.
(c) All account creation and management must be initiated from the host device.
(d) The UI appearing on the client does not resemble an iOS or App Store view, does not provide a store-like interface, or include the ability to browse, select, or purchase software not already owned or licensed by the user. For the sake of clarity, transactions taking place within mirrored software do not need to use in-app purchase, provided the transactions are processed on the host device.
(e) Thin clients for cloud-based apps are not appropriate for the App Store.