- Apple revised its App Store guidelines on Friday ahead of the release of iOS 14, the latest version of the iPhone operating system, which is expected later this month.
- The changes on Friday include rules that directly affect game streaming services. Microsoft and Facebook have publicly said in recent months that Apple's rules have restricted what their gaming apps can do on iPhones and iPads.
- Apple says that game streaming services, like Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud, are explicitly permitted. But there are conditions: Games offered in the service need to be downloaded directly from the App Store, not from an all-in-one app.
Apple's employees use these guidelines to approve or deny apps and updates on the App Store. Those rules have come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks from app makers who argue iPhone maker has too much control over what software runs on iPhones and how Apple takes a cut of payments from those apps. In particular, Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, is in a bitter legal battle with Apple over several of its guidelines, including its requirement to use in-app purchases for digital products. Apple removed Fortnite from its app store last month.
One major update on Friday relates to game streaming services. Microsoft and Facebook have publicly said in recent months that Apple's rules have restricted what their gaming apps can do on iPhones and iPads. Microsoft's xCloud service isn't available on iOS, and Facebook's gaming app lacks games on iPhones.
Apple now says that game streaming services, such as Google Stadia and Microsoft xCloud, are explicitly permitted. But there are conditions: Games offered in the service need to be downloaded directly from the App Store, not from an all-in-one app. App makers are permitted to release a so-called "catalog app" that links to other games in the service, but each game will need to be an individual app.
Apple's rules mean that if a streaming game service has 100 games, then each of those games will need an individual App Store listing as well as a developer relationship with Apple. The individual games also have to have some basic functionality when they're downloaded. All the games and the stores need to offer in-app purchase using Apple's payment processing system, under which Apple usually takes 30% of revenue.
"This remains a bad experience for customers. 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," a Microsoft representative said in a statement. A Google representative declined to comment.
The rules underscore the tension between Apple's control of its platform, which it says is for safety and security reasons, and emerging gaming services considered by many to be the future of the gaming industry. Gaming streaming services want to act as a platform for game makers, such as approving individual games and deciding which games to offer, but Apple wants the streaming services to act more like a bundle of games and says it will need to review each individual game.
Apple does not have a cloud gaming service, but it does sell a subscription bundle of iOS games called Apple Arcade.
Another change relates to in-person classes purchased inside an iPhone app. This spring, amid the pandemic, several companies that previously enabled users to book in-person products, like Classpass, started offering virtual classes. Apple's rules previously said that virtual classes were required to use Apple's in-app payment process.
Apple's new guidelines say that one-on-one in-person virtual classes, like fitness training, can bypass Apple for payment, but classes where one instructor is teaching more a class with multiple people will still require apps to use Apple's in-app purchases.
Apple also addressed an issue raised by companies like Wordpress and Hey, and loosened the requirement for free apps to use in-app purchases.
A full log of the App Store changes is available on Apple's website.