Microsoft is about to test Apple’s App Store rules
Last week, I showed you why Apple’s App Store guidelines will never permit Microsoft’s xCloud or Google’s Stadia cloud gaming services in their current forms.
But Microsoft has another form of game streaming that isn’t against Apple’s rules at all, and the company has all but confirmed it’s currently working to bring it to your iPhone.
The tweet above is from nearly a year ago, but it’s freshly relevant this week: on Monday, Microsoft announced a new Xbox app that lets you stream games from your own Xbox to your own Android phone over your local network for free. There’s an iOS version coming too — and while my colleague Tom Warren originally suggested the console streaming feature probably wouldn’t come to iOS, I’m now willing to bet it will.
Microsoft now tells me the goal is actually to have full parity between the iOS and Android apps, and that Apple is already reviewing the iOS version now.
And unless Microsoft is trying to push something drastically different on iOS than the existing Android app, I expect the console streaming feature to sail through review with flying colors.
You see, Apple has a name for apps like these, distinct from the individual streaming game idea that we discussed last week. They’re called “Remote Desktop Clients,” and here are the exact Apple guidelines that apply:
4.2.7 Remote Desktop Clients: If your remote desktop app acts as a mirror of specific software or services rather than a generic mirror of the host device, it must comply with the following:
(a) The app must only connect to a user-owned host device that is a personal computer or dedicated game console owned by the user, and both the host device and client must be connected on a local and LAN-based network.
(b) Any software or services appearing in the client are fully executed on the host device, rendered on the screen of the host device, and may not use APIs or platform features beyond what is required to stream the Remote Desktop.
(c) All account creation and management must be initiated from the host device.
(d) The UI appearing on the client does not resemble an iOS or App Store view, does not provide a store-like interface, or include the ability to browse, select, or purchase software not already owned or licensed by the user. For the sake of clarity, transactions taking place within mirrored software do not need to use in-app purchase, provided the transactions are processed on the host device.
(e) Thin clients for cloud-based apps are not appropriate for the App Store.
Thing is, Microsoft can probably ignore parts (a) through (e) because they don’t apply to such a basic streaming service at all: as you can see in Tom’s video tweet above, the Xbox app is the definition of a “generic mirror of the host device” because it mirrors the entire Xbox One interface, warts and all. Apple says these apps only need to follow the other rules if they aren’t generic mirrors of a console.
Apple allows those kinds of remote desktop apps to do just about anything, likely because they’re valuable for more than just games — there’s a whole category of sysadmins and other techs that rely on them to troubleshoot PCs remotely, and it’d be hard (though not impossible) to shut down this kind of app without restricting those as well.
It’s also how a cloud gaming app like Shadow can sneak through Apple’s walls, because that service just mirrors an entire Windows PC across the internet and requires you to install the games yourself.
But when it comes to the Xbox app’s fate, there’s a far more important precedent. Sony’s PS4 Remote Play is already on iOS, and it works almost exactly the same as Microsoft’s Xbox console streaming. It similarly mirrors the entire PS4 interface, including access to the PlayStation Store. And though Microsoft’s Android app does include the ability to play over the internet, and a few more creature comforts like remote management of your console, I would think the “generic mirror” rule would keep it from getting kicked out.
All that said, Apple has been known to change the rules whenever it feels like — even after rejecting an app it already approved. That’s what originally happened to Valve’s Steam Link app, which was barred from release on iOS before Apple introduced any of the Remote Desktop rules above. Steam Link eventually got approved a year later, but with some conspicuous cuts:
But Microsoft’s Xbox app isn’t like Steam Link anyhow, since it’s always used Valve’s streamlined Big Picture interface rather than having a full “generic mirror” of your PC’s operating system in tow. I wouldn’t expect Microsoft to need any cuts — unless, of course, Apple tries to apply its new set of “streaming games” rules to keep those Xbox games out. Even if it does, it’ll seem blatantly unfair since Sony’s near-identical idea already exists on the App Store.
I expect Apple will just wave this one through.