Xbox Game Pass could finally come to iPhone — but there's a big catch

Xbox Game Pass iPhone
(Image credit: Microsoft)

What a difference a month makes. Back in August, it was revealed that Microsoft would not be bringing its Project xCloud to iOS after all, because Apple’s App Store restrictions meant that each game would have to be reviewed individually. 

Now Apple has partially relented. The App Store guidelines have been updated to explicitly permit the likes of Game Pass and Stadia, but with a big catch. Although the streaming service can have a central ‘catalog app’ for picking games, any title streamed will need its own dedicated app to make your home screen that bit more crowded. 

The rationale for this isn’t entirely clear. After all, the Netflix app doesn’t require an app for each movie, and neither does Kindle make a new app for each book you buy. But for games the rules are different, and each title will need its own App Store listing, some basic functionality when downloaded and a developer relationship with Apple. Each game downloaded will also require in-app purchases to “unlock features or functionality”.

Suffice it to say, Microsoft isn’t satisfied with this compromise. “This remains a bad experience for customers,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Tom’s Guide. “Gamers want to jump directly into a game from their curated catalog within one app just like they do with movies or songs, and not be forced to download over 100 apps to play individual games from the cloud. 

“We’re committed to putting gamers at the center of everything we do, and providing a great experience is core to that mission.” 

Xbox game pass ultimate

(Image credit: Microsoft)

It’s not immediately obvious whether this statement is just agitating for more concessions, or a sign that Microsoft will decide that Game Pass is best left for non-Apple devices. But given Apple famously takes a 30% cut of subscriptions taken out on its devices (15% after the first year), it’s likely that Microsoft is considering its options, even if it hasn’t publicly committed one way or the other.

This will be music to the ears of Samsung, which made a big deal of emphasizing the that both the Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra support Xbox Game Pass. Not only does Samsung have streaming optimizations in place, but there's Samsung-exclusive content for Game Pass subscribers. Pre-orders even came with three months of Game Pass free of charge, and there was a special gamer bundle with a controller grip. 

For gamers eyeing up the iPhone 12, Samsung’s flagship rivals may suddenly seem a bit more more appealing. And you’d imagine that the company won’t miss the opportunity to make the upcoming Galaxy S21 equally Game Pass friendly, too.

We'll have to see if Apple and Microsoft can settle their differences, but right now it doesn't look good.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.