Apple is finally allowing Xbox Game Pass streaming on the App Store — this is a huge deal

Xbox logo on iPhone
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Apple is opening its App Store up a bit more today (January 25) by allowing developers to stream games and other "mini-programs" from within a single app. This is significant because until now it was very challenging for game streaming services to operate on the Apple App Store. 

While services like Google Stadia (RIP), GeForce Now and Xbox Game Pass did finally come to iPhone in 2020, Apple made it difficult for developers to actually stream games to iPhones. While such apps could offer basic account services and provide users a catalog of games on offer, any game that was actually going to be streamed to an Apple device had to first be submitted to the App Store team as its own dedicated standalone app which must then have in-app purchases to unlock functionality. 

In this way Apple was able to exert fine-grained control over which games were available for streaming via its App Store, and take a cut of the profits to boot. At the time, Apple's developer partners seemed (understandably) frustrated by the limitation, which was not applied to content streaming services like Spotify or Netflix.

"This remains a bad experience for customers," a Microsoft spokesperson told Tom’s Guide at the time. "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."

google stadia

Before now it was possible to stream games to your iPhone, but it wasn't a great experience. (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

And indeed it seemed like a bad experience for developers as well who had to try workarounds like in-app links to websites where you can stream games via the browser on your phone. We saw this when Google Stadia hit the iPhone back in 2020 and suddenly you could stream and play Cyberpunk 2077 on your iPhone or iPad —but only by effectively putting a link to a streaming website on your home screen, in app form. If you wanted to stream the game in the Stadia app, or switch games while streaming, you were out of luck.

Those days seem to be over, as Apple's announcement today lays the groundwork for big changes to spread throughout its App Store in 2024. Starting today, developers can submit one app with the ability to stream all games in their catalog.

Apple is of course keen to continue exercising control over the content and revenue in these apps, so not just every app but "each experience made available in an app on the App Store will be required to adhere to all App Store Review Guidelines and its host app will need to maintain an age rating of the highest age-rated content included in the app." 

In addition, the company is talking up how it can assist developers with "enhanced discovery opportunities for streaming games, mini-apps, mini-games, chatbots, and plug-ins" they offer on the App Store. Of course, it's also keen to point out developers can offer paid content or services via its In-App Purchase system, which gives Apple a cut of the earnings.

Plus, Apple is rolling out some new analytics tools that developers can use to better understand their performance on the App Store, with more to come in March 2024.

Outlook

This is one of a few changes Apple is making to its App Store in 2024 in response to pressure from European Union authorities who have been investigating the company on antitrust allegations. 

Expect more changes to the company's business in the EU to comply with the impending Digital Markets Act, to the point that Apple could split the App Store to comply with EU regulations. And while the company is under pressure to make it easier for iPhone owners to install their own apps, without accessing the App Store, it sounds like Apple will likely restrict sideloading on iPhone in the most Apple way possible.

Still, back in 2020 it was hard to imagine anything like this could happen to Apple's walled garden. While the company appears to be fighting tooth and nail to keep its hold on the App Store, pressure from EU regulators has clearly had an effect.

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Alex Wawro

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.