Xbox games are finally available on iPhone — but there's a catch

Xbox Game Pass iPhone
(Image credit: Microsoft)

There are several obstacles in the way of cloud gaming, but one of the more prominent ones is Apple. The company behind the iPhone 12 has taken issue with cloud services, and has so far refused to let some games companies add cloud streaming app to the App Store.

Cloud-powered game streaming on iOS is still a way off for the Xbox, which is a bummer. But for the time being Microsoft has a workaround of sorts, because the newest version of the Xbox app will let you stream games from your Xbox to your iPhone (or iPad). We've heard about this before, but now it's all official.

For those that don’t remember, let’s get you up to speed. Officially having an app that lets you stream games over the cloud is against the App Store’s terms of service with Apple specifically taking issue with the fact it’s unable to individually rate each game that’s available. 

Apple’s rules only affect streaming from a cloud server, so if you’re streaming from a local console (or mirroring the display of some other machine), that’s all fine. That’s why PS4 Remote Play, Steam Link, and now the latest version of the Xbox app, are allowed on the app store.

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It’s not the same as streaming straight from the cloud, as you can do on Android devices, which is a disappointment. But until Microsoft can finish off a workaround in the Safari app, this is the only way to play Xbox games on iOS. You just need to make sure you have the right games on your console, either via Xbox Game Pass or because you bought it outright.

Of course Android users get the option of both, meaning you can either stream via Project xCloud and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, or just play the games you already have if you’re not into paying for that subscription.

The new Xbox app for iOS comes just in time for the launch of the new iPhone 12 range. And with all four models sporting Super Retina XDR OLED displays, Xbox games on the new handsets should look rather impressive.  

How to stream Xbox games on your iPhone

The first thing you need to do to get this set up is actually have an iPhone or iPad, then download the latest version of the Xbox app. From there you log into your own account, and the app will prompt you to do a number of things, including set up your console.

If you miss that prompt, head to the 'My Library' page, then hit the ‘consoles’ tab at the top of the screen to pick it up again. Then you click ‘Get Started’. Most of you will want to set up an existing console, so pick that option, but you can also set up a brand new option should you get a new console. Like an Xbox Series X when it goes on sale next month.

You'll be asked to log in, but the app may then decide to do nothing. Frustrating, right? If that happens restart the app and it should fix the problem. Head to the same Consoles tab, and your console should be on screen waiting for you.

Tap it, then hit 'Remote play on this device' and wait for your console to react. It'll then ask you to enable your Bluetooth controller, so make sure that's handy. Update the controller if prompted, but if not you should see your Xbox screen pop up on your iPhone or iPad. 

Connect your controller to your device the usual way (the connection button on top), and you're ready to start playing. You don't even need to keep your TV on.

xbox game pass

(Image credit: Microsoft)

A few points to note with this. The first one is you’ll need a Bluetooth-compatible Xbox controller, which means one from either the Xbox One S, Xbox One X, or the still-unreleased Series X and Xbox Series S consoles. The original Xbox One controllers aren’t going to work. 

Because this is streaming you’ll also need to keep your console on, and make sure your iPhone is on the same network. Likewise both your console and device will need a solid connection, so make sure the console and your phone both have a strong Wi-Fi signal. Alternatively you can hardwire your console in place, provided it’s hooked up to the same Wi-Fi router.

For that reason the stream can be a little bit tetchy at times. I found that despite being in the same room as the console and router, my iPad would periodically disconnect. You might also find that some games won't play while streaming, as I found trying to play two different Xbox 360 games (Fallout 3 and The Force Unleashed 2). 

Likewise you can't access the console's menu by pressing the controller's central Xbox logo, and instead you have to do it via your Apple device's touchscreen; It's a bit weird, and slightly annoying.

But the system works fairly well, provided you have a good enough network, and if you want to play Xbox games on iOS now's your chance. It should keep you satiated until Project xCloud arrives at any rate.

Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.