It’s long been a push-and-shove battle between Android and iOS when it comes to mobile gaming. While Android’s more open structure allows for unrestricted use of emulators like Dolphin and PPSSPP to re-experience beloved childhood classics on the go, Apple’s more optimised, closed ecosystem has resulted in more support from publishers that requires less time to bring over software compared to its main competitor.
With the release of Apple Arcade last year, it seemed that iOS was finally going to become a place where gaming would be fully supported. After all, who wouldn’t want to game on a single device that is so well optimised you know it will play anything you throw at it for years to come? Unfortunately, Apple’s usual case of closed-mindedness has struck once again, as it is want to do, and the undeniable future of mobile gaming is being locked out for iOS users.
The future of mobile gaming is streaming. While game streaming is very unlikely to replace console and PC gaming for the majority of gamers, the ability to stream a quick game of Halo Infinite on your mobile phone while waiting for the usually inconsistent arrival of a British train – when we’re allowed to experience that Hell again – is a tempting idea for any gamer. It’s like watching an episode of Mock the Week on the bog after you decided to eat a very cheesy pasta bake despite your aversion to dairy; what else do you have to do?
With Xbox’s Project xCloud – or whatever they decide to rebrand it to – your waiting times on the bus, train, crapper, et cetera are now going to feel like less of a waste of your life. Gaming’s interactive nature compared to the passiveness of watching a Netflix show or YouTube video you aren’t entirely invested in equals less time constantly checking your phone’s clock, counting the seconds you’ve wasted just traveling.
Microsoft and Samsung today announced a new partnership around cloud game streaming. From Sept. 15, you’ll be able to experience the best of Xbox Game Pass by downloading the app from the Samsung Galaxy Store, giving you the freedom to access expansion packs, downloadable content and more. Also, people who pre-order the new Galaxy Note20 have the option to select the Gaming Bundle at purchase, which includes three months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
Unfortunately, Apple’s typical level of service gatekeeping is hampering streaming services like Project xCloud and Google Stadia from thriving on iOS devices. It’s already happening: Stadia on iOS is currently just an app to buy games to play on other platforms, xCloud’s preview fork only allows you to play one game compared to the huge collection on Android.
The “why” is simple: Apple wants their cut. Unlike Android, Windows or even Apple’s MacOS – for now – supports independent services that require exterior subscriptions without requiring that OS’ developer to steal 30% for simply existing on that platform. It’s an outdated philosophy: even digital storefronts that coexist purely from revenue percentages have started to reduce the traditional 30% like with the Epic Games Store.
Apple’s hunger for the 30% previously led to the rejection of Valve’s Steam Link – an app that allows gamers to stream already owned Steam games to your mobile phone, PC or Raspberry Pi – over “business conflicts”. If they’re buying games on Steam and playing them on iOS, Apple wasn’t making money off those game sales. Thankfully, Steam Link is now available on iOS.
However, Google Stadia and Project xCloud are not available on iOS. Some believe Stadia isn’t available because of Apple’s multiple-generation refusal to support Google’s software-based VP9 video decoding, the same reason why iOS still doesn’t support above 1080p YouTube. But that doesn’t entirely make sense for why services like xCloud aren’t available: most people won’t be streaming in 4K and, in the case of xCloud, you can’t.
The common problem is Apple. As a devout lover of the iPad – I’ve yet to see a tablet provide a more cohesive and accessible experience – the caveats of being an iOS user are numerous. Sometimes I’d like to switch to an iPhone for its ease of use, accessibility options, better battery life and better optimisation, but as long as Apple continues to restrict its ecosystem more than it makes sense to, iOS will always come with some serious FOMO – especially for gamers.