Xbox Game Pass: Is the Future of Software Streamed?

Another day, another news story about Apple’s App Store policies. This time, it is Microsoft complaining about the fact Apple’s rules mean Xbox Game Pass cannot be made be available on the iPhone or iPad.

While I can see the argument that Xbox Game Pass is simply Netflix for games, as I see it, the key difference is that games are software and videos are content. If Apple allow software to be streamed in the store, could this, in theory, open the floodgates to other developers whose motivations might not be as sincere as Microsoft’s?

Apple already has a struggle on its hands to encourage big application makers to build high quality, native applications for its platforms. Many apps that need a presence on both Android and iOS use some kind of intermediate framework that makes the app cheaper to develop, as there’s only one codebase with minimal changes for each operating system. This usually comes at the expense of usability and inability to take advantage of platform specific features. You can usually tell when this is the case, as the resulting apps often won’t feel quite right – if you’re looking for an example, then maybe try your electricity company’s app (for some reason, utility companies seem to be ripe for this kind of cheaply made app).

Imagine if instead of building a cross platform app using one of these frameworks, there was an even cheaper option – build an app that runs in the cloud. It’s the ultimate option for companies that just need an app with the most minimal expenditure. The user experience would be terrible – but many companies don’t care. Your £1,000+ iPhone would be acting as a thin client.

So while I think streaming makes sense for games (I can’t wait to play Flight Simulator 2020 and streaming it over Xbox Game Pass might be the only way I can, due to its stringent hardware requirements) – I can kind of understand Apple’s reluctance to allow software streaming, and making an exception for games seems kind of arbitrary. If Microsoft can stream games, why shouldn’t Adobe be allowed to stream their Creative Cloud applications?

Will the future of software be in the cloud, a future where we all use low-specification thin clients? We’re not there yet, and Apple’s investment in low powered CPU and GPU technologies, coupled with the fact they make their money selling premium hardware, tells me that they see a future where our computing power is in our pockets, not the cloud.