Very soon, millions of people will have the option of downloading an Android app to play Xbox and PC games, streamed to their device via Project xCloud. The same can't be said of iOS devices, and there's no telling when that might change. As of yesterday, the limited iOS test program for xCloud ended, seemingly putting Microsoft's streaming ambitions on pause when it comes to Apple products.
In a statement to The Verge, Microsoft confirms that its iOS preview period for xCloud is now over. Compared to the xCloud testing for Android, the iOS tests were extremely limited, reaching just 10,000 participants with only one title, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, available for play. The original announcement specifically mentioned that the limitation to a single title was "due to App Store Policy," and added that the test's limited audience was "standard with iOS TestFlight builds."
While this does signal that iOS compatibility for xCloud is a longer time coming, it's not the final nail in the coffin. "It's our ambition to scale cloud gaming through Xbox Game Pass available on all devices," a Microsoft spokesperson tells The Verge.
Android still holds a significant lead over iOS in terms of global usage, but Microsoft likely can't afford to ignore Apple devices for xCloud, especially in regions with sufficiently high speed internet for game streaming. According to analytics firm Statista, Android and iOS are about neck-and-neck in the United States, each accounting for nearly half of the mobile operating system market.
Microsoft is far from alone in having difficulties bringing its streaming services to Apple products. Google Stadia has not come to iOS yet and Valve's Steam Link was initially removed from the App Store in 2018 over "business conflicts with app guidelines," only returning a full year later.
Restrictions on things like xCloud and Stadia aside, Apple is now facing strong opposition to its App Store policies more generally. In May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to allow an antitrust case against Apple to proceed. A month later, the European Commission launched two antitrust investigations regarding the App Store and Apple Pay.
If Apple voluntarily opens up its walled garden or is forced to by regulators, it should theoretically be much easier for xCloud or any other Apple Arcade competitor to come to iOS. Until then, things seem to be in limbo—what we do know is that Game Pass Ultimate will bring xCloud to Android on September 15 and that xCloud streaming is also in the works for PC down the line.