Fri, 07 Aug 2020 11:14:15
Cloud gaming is getting ready to have a big moment on mobile devices starting next month with the launch of Microsoft's xCloud service, but iOS users are being left behind. And now we know exactly why: Apple won't allow the product, due to the strict App Store guidelines that make cloud services like xCloud and its competitor, Google Stadia, effectively impossible to operate on iPhones.
We already know that there are some issues, possibly App Store related, such as why Stadia is not available for Apple devices and why Microsoft services will most likely face the same fate. It seems more likely that xCloud's fate on iOS was sealed yesterday when Microsoft stopped testing iOS for the xCloud app well before the September 15 launch date on Android. Nvidia's GeForce Now service is similar to Android-only for phones, although the platform technically lets you access titles you already own.
But Apple finally came out and said, in a statement to Business Insider, that this type of cloud service violates App Store guidelines and cannot, in its current form, ever exist on iOS. The main reason: they offer access to apps that 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.
Back in March, Bloomberg reported that Apple offered a very similar justification when asked about potential antitrust issues related to Apple's Arcade game subscription service, which the company operates even though its competitors have done the same.
Microsoft, in a new statement given to The Verge on Thursday, said it could not find a solution to bring xCloud to iOS via the App Store, and now blames Apple, which it says is “stands alone” in denying consumers the benefits of cloud gaming by “consistently treats gaming apps differently” and “applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps.” The company added that it plans to continue looking for ways to bring cloud gaming and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to iOS devices.
Here’s the Microsoft spokesperson full statement:
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.
Regardless, the main key in the statement is "including submitting games one by one for review, and appearing in charts and searches". How Stadia works today, and how xCloud will work next month, is that you pay for access to the service itself, and that service then lets you pay for or access free games from the cloud. Those games aren't stored on your local device in your home, unlike the Apple-approved Valve Steam Link app (though Valve has its issues getting Steam Link approved on iOS).
So Apple doesn't know what you buy or play on its device because it can't check it out first. It also doesn't see any revenue from these services if they only allow you to access the subscription service you already paid for, which is at the heart of the big row between Apple and Basecamp, the creators of the new email service. Hey, last month, which was resolved only when Basecamp compromised with the iPhone maker by adding a free sign-up option to its iOS app.
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.
In other words, unless it's a full-fledged remote desktop application, cloud gaming services are not allowed as these guidelines are created at this time - despite very narrowly adapted LAN services like Steam Link and Sony PS4 Remote Play.
Google and Microsoft probably don’t want to offer signup options within the apps themselves because that would mean giving Apple a 30 percent cut of subscription revenue, but apps without “account creation” options violate section (c). Abiding by section (a) is also impossible considering these cloud servers on which the games are running are not owned by and located in the homes of consumers but placed in data centers far away. And section (e) just flat out says this type of thing — a “thin client for the cloud-based app” — can’t exist in the App Store at all; it’s not “appropriate,” Apple says.
There are several solutions here. For example, the cloud gaming service Shadow gives you access to a remote computer "host device" that is not technically owned by the user but is leased from the company itself. It's also not on the same network as the device that's accessing it. But Shadow works and is now available on iOS.
A Shadow spokesman told The Verge that, when it found its iOS application had a dispute with Apple earlier this year, it removed the quick launch feature that allowed users to directly enter the game. It was later approved because the application functions more like a remote desktop service - the "common mirror of host devices" which Apple mentions as an exception in its App Store guidelines. With Shadow, you still have to go and install Steam, login, and access existing titles like you would in any other remote desktop application. But the devices remote users use are gaming PCs that Shadow leases to you every month, which is a clever way of getting around this limitation.
Valve did something similar to Steam Link by removing the option to buy games from the iOS app version, as Apple took issue with the fact that Steam Link was effectively acting as an app store within the App Store that evaded Apple's review process.
What does all this mean? Well, for now, iOS users will be missing the wave of mobile-centric cloud gaming that will arrive with the launch of xCloud. Maybe there are ways Google, Microsoft, and Nvidia can find a way to overcome this by changing the core functionality of each application.
But it seems impossible in the short term. The App Store is such a huge market that profitable developers over the years have gone circle after circle to access its nearly 1.5 billion users. In this case, however, there is a fundamental disconnect between the way this service operates and the way Apple wants the software to work on the iPhone and iPad. It seems like that won't change soon.
Keywords: app store guidelines, xcloud ios, stadia google