published by Chand Bellur – October 21, 2020 at 5:57 p.m.
- Cloud-based gaming platforms enable inexpensive computing devices, such as low-end smartphones, to play complicated and graphically intense games by offloading processing onto servers.
- Stadia is Google’s platform for playing cloud-based games.
- Apple will soon remove a third-party app enabling users to play Stadia games using Safari for iOS.
Cloud-Based Gaming Levels the Smartphone Playing Field
There’s a good reason why Apple doesn’t like cloud-based gaming. The technology allows less powerful devices, such as low-end smartphones, to run games typically requiring high-performance hardware. For a company that still makes most of its revenues from device sales, cloud-based gaming allows customers to hold onto devices longer.
Cloud-based gaming is similar to remote desktop software for computers. If you’ve ever controlled a PC or Mac with another computer, you’re likely aware that you’re only viewing the host computer’s graphical output. Cloud-based gaming is similar. Instead of running the game directly on the device, a server processes all game logic and renders graphics, only sending a video feed to the client device. This means an old smartphone with poor specs can play desktop-quality games.
Google, Microsoft, and Amazon either have or will soon launch cloud-based gaming platforms. The technologies make sense for these corporations. Although they sell some devices; software, services, and retail operations generate the bulk of their revenues.
Apple is in a different situation. The Cupertino tech giant wants customers to purchase the most powerful device they can afford, with a frequent upgrade cycle. Apple Arcade, Apple’s gaming subscription service, only offers native games that run directly on a device’s hardware. Slower devices can’t run complicated games without sluggish performance, encouraging users to upgrade.
Apple’s vague App Store policies give the company free rein to control competitors as it sees fit. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon’s cloud-based gaming solutions are not available in the App Store due to broad policy interpretations. In a recent development, Apple will now remove a third-party app enabling access to Google Stadia on iOS devices.
Zachary Knox’s Stadium App to be Removed from App Store
Although Google’s Stadia app was rejected from the App Store, as it contains an embedded app retail experience, third-party developer Zachary Knox came up with a workaround. Knox connected iOS APIs with WebKit, enabling Bluetooth connectivity between the web browser and Stadia controller. His solution made it possible to play Stadia games through the web browser.
Dubbed “Stadium”, Knox’s app developed quite a following. With 15,000 installs in its short lifespan, his app has proven quite successful.
Knox’s creative solution didn’t go over well with Apple. The company informed Knox that Stadium violates App Store policies. Specifically, he connects iOS APIs with the WebKit framework in a way that Apple does not permit. Apple will not allow a Bluetooth game controller to connect to Safari, which seems like a capricious limitation on end-users and developers. It’s clear, at this point, Apple will do everything it takes to prevent cloud gaming on iOS.
The Browser is the Future of iPhone Cloud Gaming
There is one way that Apple could allow native cloud gaming solutions in the App Store. Unfortunately, it would require companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon to completely redesign their gaming services.
Apple’s main objection to Stadia is its embedded app retail experience. Stadia is like an app market within an app market. In addition to subscription games, Stadia users can purchase games individually.
To abide by App Store policies, Google and others would need to sell cloud games individually. They would also have to separate their subscription service from a la carte games. It’s quite a mess, and it makes things more complicated for the end-user. Gone are the days when Apple was more concerned about usability than profit. Ironically, they claim usability and customers’ ability to review each individual app as rationales for the decision.
For now, the simplest solution is to develop a web app for iOS users. Although Stadia users won’t be able to connect to Safari with Bluetooth, Google’s controller allows for a direct WiFi connection with Stadia servers. The browser need only display the game.
It’s unclear whether Google is working on such a solution. It’s hard to imagine the company will forgo over a billion potential customers. The Mountain View search giant may just wait until Apple’s App Store monopoly comes to an end.
App Store Monopoly Coming to an End?
Apple and other tech companies are under the microscope these days. The U.S. House of Representatives recently assembled a subcommittee investigating anti-competitive practices of top tech corporations. More than any other company, Apple’s App Store monopoly has garnered the ire of legislators, third-party developers, and competitors. At this point, change seems imminent.
Android, the world’s most popular operating system, and every other OS, except for iOS and iPadOS, allow users to install apps from the web. I installed Fornite, banned on both the App Store and Google Play, on my OnePlus 8 Pro using Epic Games’ website. It was just as easy as installing an app from the App Store or Google Play. This is a native app, and not a web-based experience. It’s just like how you download software on your laptop or desktop computer.
At a minimum, Apple will probably acquiesce to allow sideloading apps from the web. Such a move won’t impact App Store revenues, as most iPhone owners will still willingly default to Apple’s retail experience.
Web-based software distribution will allow knowledgeable consumers to download Stadia and other banned apps on their iPhones. Apple will likely pop up security alerts to discourage the practice. As long as it’s available, however, companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon will be able to direct customers to their iOS apps, albeit with some interference from Apple.