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We’ve been hearing reports since last summer that Microsoft had plans in the works to extend its Project xCloud game streaming service to the iOS platform, although we weren’t originally sure exactly what form that was going to take, as Apple hasn’t traditionally taken a very favourable view toward game streaming services, but now it looks like Microsoft is rolling out the first iOS beta of xCloud through Apple’s TestFlight platform.
Although the ability to stream from game consoles and PCs to the iPhone and iPad isn’t exactly new, so far they’ve been limited to streaming games from a console or PC running on the same LAN as your iPhone or iPad, making the usefulness of them somewhat limited.
Further, even this capability is something that gaming platforms had to fight for, with Steam leading the way with its Steam Link app back in 2018, which was originally rejected by Apple due to “business conflicts” with the App Store, which appeared to be an oblique way of Apple saying that it didn’t like the ability for Steam users to purchase games from their iOS devices outside of the App Store.
Apple later capitulated by revising its App Store rules to allow purchases of Steam games — as long as they happened on the desktop PC and not the iPhone or iPad.
Once Steam had cleared the way, Sony was able to debut its PS4 Remote Play app as well, but it still limited users to simply mirroring their PS4 games onto their iOS devices, and only while on the same network.
So what Microsoft is doing with Project xCloud is actually something entirely different — a cloud-based game streaming service — and there’s no doubt it will be breaking new ground with Apple and its App Store guidelines, as evidenced by the fact that the new beta has a few really interesting restrictions that don’t exist on other platforms.
To comply with App Store policies, the preview experience on iOS may look and feel different for those who have been testing on Android.
According to a blog post by Microsoft’s Larry Hryb, Microsoft has had to make a number of concessions to Apple in order to ensure Project xCloud could get into TestFlight, and ultimately into the App Store.
For one, the iOS TestFlight preview is beginning with only one game: Halo: The Master Chief Collection, rather than the wider catalogue available to other Project xCloud users.
Even more unusual, considering that Apple has already shown a willingness to approve console-hosted streaming, is the fact that the TestFlight preview doesn’t include Xbox Console Streaming “at this time,” although the language in the post suggests that could come later on.
The nature of TestFlight also means that Microsoft can only invite 10,000 testers to the preview — a number which was reached within hours of the program opening up. However, this isn’t so much a restriction that’s specific to Microsoft’s Project xCloud, but is rather common to all TestFlight programs. That said, Microsoft notes that they plan to cycle beta participants throughout the program, so even those who aren’t accepted in the initial release may still find themselves invited to test a later version.
The last high-profile company to attempt to get a cloud gaming service onto the iOS platform was OnLive back in 2011, and it didn’t go so well for them. Meanwhile, Google Stadia and Nvidia’s GeForce Now don’t even appear to be attempting to expand into the iOS world, so the fact that Microsoft has managed to get Project xCloud onto the iPhone is actually a big deal, even if it’s not the full-featured solution that we had necessarily hoped for.