Google Stadia finally made its way to iOS just over a year after it launched. The company’s mobile web beta for iPhone and iPad, first announced last month, launched today. That means any Stadia user on the free tier or a paid Stadia Pro subscription will be able to access their Stadia game library on Apple devices.
Google, like other competing cloud services, uses mobile Safari due to Apple’s restrictions on cloud gaming apps, which means a platform like Stadia cannot appear in its current form on the App Store. You can access Stadia via its website in Safari or by creating a home screen icon, which turns the service into a progressive web app so that it functions almost the same as the original.
Unlike Nvidia’s GeForce Now or the planned mobile web version of Microsoft xCloud, however, Google Stadia has an unlimited free tier and now offers two free games available (Destiny 2 and Super Bomberman R), with more to come. It means that anyone with a Gmail account who wants to try Stadia can try it on an iPhone or iPad with minimal effort.
This accessibility could be the key to Stadia’s future growth. Much of Stadia’s early struggles, and the many failed or unknown cloud platforms that have come before, have to do with a mixture of technical issues and economic hurdles, obstacles that mean actually using the service as your primary gaming platform. Complicated and expensive than its benefits. But Stadia is now in a much different place from when it launched. The service not only has a free tier and free-to-play games, but it also has access to high-profile holiday releases like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and the just-released Cyberpunk 2077.
CD Projekt Red’s new open-world sci-fi game has been plagued by bugs and performance issues that mainly affected players on the last generation game console, which is a boon for the Stadia version. Google had to stop promotions for games that give free Stadia controllers and Chromecast Ultra devices to anyone who orders or buys Cyberpunk 2077 on Stadia until a week after its release due to overwhelming demand.
Adding iOS support could add to the momentum that Stadia is experiencing right now. I have had access to the beta on my Stadia test account for the past week, or so where I have tested Cyberpunk 2077 and other games on my iPad Pro and iPhone 11 Pro. It works great, even with the built-in touch controls.
It’s nice to know that I can still maneuver the Destiny 2 interface using my iPhone’s touchscreen to perform simple tasks, like rotating the in-game Tower hub to select gifts or check my character inventory.
Instead of touching, you’re better off using a Stadia controller or one of the supported Bluetooth gamepads like the Microsoft Xbox One controller or Sony DualShock 4, and those controllers work seamlessly through mobile Safari without the issues I’ve encountered so far.
I would say that you should rely on a Wi-Fi connection for reliable play on iOS unless you happen to be the owner of an Ethernet to a Lightning accessory or a somewhat rare and situational USB adapter. That means you won’t get very smooth visuals or performance all the time.
However, many of the visual distractions you might experience from using Stadia on an average Wi-Fi connection on the bigger screen are not visible while playing on an iPhone or iPad. Specifically, I found playing Cyberpunk 2077 on my iPad Pro to be pretty consistent and stable, more in some cases than on my PlayStation 5, where I found games crashing multiple times during a single playing session.
Due to Apple’s limitations, Google says you need to do a bit of work to get the web version of Stadia on the home screen of your iOS device as a progressive web app, and this graphic made to explain that:
The big caveat at the moment is that there aren’t many great games on Stadia that cater to mobile players. I don’t see anyone trying hard to get the new Assassin’s Creed or Cyberpunk 2077 running on an iPhone screen, except to admire the novelty. I think the iPad is primarily where Stadia on iOS will shine for the players who have a nice enough screen, a fast enough connection, and a controller to use.
But iOS support opens up many avenues for Stadia — not only to bring more players looking for more powerful mobile gaming solutions but also to promote cloud gaming to developers who are creating game types suitable for mobile screens. If Google likes more indie developers and starts supporting the less graphics-intensive experiences you might see on, say, a Nintendo Switch, that could make Stadia a much more competitive platform.