Apple has long preferred to control both the hardware and software experience for its products. The coming rise of cloud-based gaming could force the iPhone maker to rethink this approach or risk losing mobile customers.
Gaming is changing
Hardcore gamers are heavily anticipating the upcoming launch of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. And yet for those who have grown tired of spending a small fortune on new gaming consoles every few years (and the games the devices support), there's a growing list of alternatives. New services like Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, and Microsoft xCloud are beginning to challenge traditional gaming platforms by providing many of the same top-tiered games without requiring new hardware. Better still, these services are available across multiple devices, including televisions, smartphones, and tablets.
Unfortunately, Apple has so far made it nearly impossible for companies like Microsoft to bring third-party cloud-based gaming solutions to platforms like tvOS, iOS, and iPadOS.
Back in August, Apple told Business Insider it provides a "great business opportunity for all developers." However, it also reiterated that "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."
These strict guidelines are at the heart of why services like xCloud aren't available in the App Store. For now, the Microsofts of the world have decided not to pursue placement in Apple's marketplace unless there are policy changes.
Over the years, I've gone back and forth on whether Apple should be forced to allow software titles on the iPhone and iPad that bypass the official App Store. Recently, I took the unpopular position that App Store exclusivity needs to end. Allowing cloud-based gaming services should have more supporters and be something more comfortable for Apple to accept.
The reason? By design, cloud-based games aren't stored on a local machine. As such, Apple shouldn't control them any more than it has a say on which films or TV shows come to Netflix, Hulu, or yes, iTunes. This is especially true when those same cloud-based games are being provided on other platforms with no restrictions.
Services like Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, and Microsoft xCloud are still in the early stages. Eventually, however, at least one of them will successfully compete with long-established gaming consoles because of compatible across multiple platforms, including mobile. Apple needs to take the lead on this. Otherwise, the time could soon arrive when buying a smartphone could be based on whether it supports a specific cloud-based gaming service. If the iPhone doesn't, it could be bad news.