Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Microsoft Told Employees It Plans to Bring Xbox Game Pass to iOS Through the Web

Ashley Stewart, Business Insider:

Microsoft’s gaming boss Phil Spencer told employees at an all-hands meeting on Wednesday the company is planning to bring Game Pass to Apple’s iPhone and iPad, targeting 2021 for the potential release of a “direct browser-based solution,” Business Insider has learned.

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A hint as to what that might look like comes from Amazon, which says that it’s able to bring its forthcoming cloud gaming service Luna to iPhone by offering it as a web app. In an interview with Engadget, Luna engineering and technology head George Tsipolitis said that Amazon worked with Apple to make that functionality possible. Google, meanwhile, makes its similar Stadia service available on PCs and Macs via its Chrome web browser, though it too is not available on iPhone or iPad.

That interview with Tsipolitis leaves me with more questions than it answered. Jessica Conditt, Engadget:

“We worked with the Safari team to ensure that some of the things that weren’t there are there, and that allowed us to kind of get to where we are today,” Luna head of engineering and technology George Tsipolitis said.

It’s unclear if Luna will remain a PWA after its stint in early access, or if it will eventually join the app stores under the standard 30 percent fee.

“We’ll continue working with Apple,” Whitten said. “We’d love to do a native experience. They’re evaluating what their policies are there, they keep talking about them. And when we can come up with a good experience there, we’ll ship that one, too.”

I have no idea how good a web app implementation of game streaming can be, but these parallel announcements seem to water down this part of the House antitrust report (PDF, page 96):

Web sites and web apps are not competitively significant alternatives to the dominant app stores on iOS and Android devices for distributing software to mobile devices. Apps provide a deeper, richer user experience and can provide additional functionality by accessing features within the mobile device’s hardware and operating system, such as camera or location services. […] Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines differentiates apps from websites, explaining that apps submitted to the App Store “should include features, content and [user interface] that elevate [the app] beyond a repackaged website.”

The report also quotes Phillip Shoemaker — former senior director of App Store Review — as saying Apple’s new game streaming rules are “completely arbitrary”, and cites a piece by Owen Williams claiming that Apple “push[es] developers toward building native apps on iOS rather than using web technologies” by “ignor[ing] popular parts of the open web specification that other browsers implement, to its own benefit”.

I don’t know what changes have been made to Safari in the last couple of versions to make game streaming services work there, and it remains to be seen how good these implementations are. I think native apps will always beat web apps and I have not used anything I would consider a good counterargument. But the possibility that both Amazon and Microsoft see the web as a plausible alternative makes Williams’ piece look even more hysterical than when I first linked to it.