Yet another gaming app is being removed from the iOS App Store. This time it’s Stadium, an app that offered a workaround for the fact that you can’t get Google’s Stadia cloud gaming service on iOS.
Stadium works by streaming Stadia games via a web browser. This technically isn’t against Apple’s draconian App Store rules; the company stated in recently updated guidelines that the “open internet and web browser apps to reach all users outside of the App Store” were permitted. So, if this is allowed, why exactly is Apple pulling Stadium from the App Store?
According to Stadium’s developer Zachary Knox, Apple’s objecting to how Stadium is “extending WebKit with native APIs to connect with Bluetooth.” Or, in essence, Apple’s not fond of how the Stadium app allows users to connect various controllers to Stadia over Bluetooth. As the Verge pointed out, Apple is likely referring to section 4.7 of its guidelines, in which it states that developers can “only [use] capabilities available in a standard WebKit view” and that developers “should not attempt to extend or expose native platform APIs to third-party software.”
Nothing about this story is surprising, and Apple’s frustrating approach to cloud gaming isn’t new. Stadia, Nvidia GeForce, and Microsoft’s Project xCloud are all absent from iOS. In August, Microsoft went as far as to tell Gizmodo that Apple was completely to blame for the lack of cloud gaming on iOS devices, saying in a statement that “Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services,” including Microsoft’s own Xbox Game Pass. Unsurprisingly, Microsoft then killed the beta trial for xCloud.
Another annoyance is that the aforementioned updated guidelines still allow Apple to treat gaming services differently from other types of streaming apps. Technically, cloud gaming services need to create individual listings for each game you can play via that service—an unnecessary hurdle that Apple doesn’t require from say, Netflix or Hulu. What it’s really doing with these vague guidelines is giving an unfair advantage to its own gaming service, Apple Arcade.
Apple often justifies its App Store policies as a means of providing a trusted marketplace—a quality guarantee of some sort. In this case, quality has nothing to do with why Apple is pulling Stadium. Knox said on Twitter that the app had been downloaded nearly 15,000 times since it appeared on the App Store on Sept. 28. As of this writing, the Stadium app is still available in the App Store and has a rating of 4.9 stars from 124 reviews, most of which are effusively positive. Ostensibly, Knox could just remove the Bluetooth component and perhaps Apple will leave Stadium be. (Knox himself noted on Reddit that he plans to “clean up the code” and make Stadium open source in the coming weeks.)
Several companies are taking the same web browser approach that Stadium did to work around the App Store rules. Microsoft is reportedly working on a web app for Xbox cloud gaming on iOS. Amazon is taking the same approach with Luna. But the troubling thing is there’s no guarantee Apple won’t find a way to use its vague guidelines to make life living hell for its competitors—or even developers who just want iOS to be a better place for games. That said, Knox doesn’t appear to bear Apple a grudge.
When reached for comment, Knox referred us to this tweet: “I know my app being removed is getting a lot of attention,” he wrote. “But to be clear: I’m disappointed, but I’m not mad at Apple. I have some plans for this app going forward, and I think you’ll all be satisfied.”