You may be wondering, "Has Amazon just violated Apple's App Store policies by bringing a cloud gaming service to the iPhone?" And I can understand why, since I told you just last week that Apple won't allow Google Stadia in a shape that comes close to its current shape – and given that Amazon Stadia's just announced Luna is very similar. Wouldn't the same rules apply?
However, the truth is that Amazon has an easy way to bypass Apple's App Store rules entirely. I wonder how long it will be before Google, Nvidia, Microsoft and others catch up.
The short version: Amazon Luna on iOS is not a traditional app. It never appears in the App Store and doesn't have to be. As Engadget reports, it's a progressive web app (PWA), which is mostly a fancy name for a website that you can launch and run separately from the rest of your web browser. Engadget says it can even appear as an icon on your home screen, making it look like a regular app before you tap on it.
Since this is a web app, it is exempt from Apple's App Store rules. This is known to Apple itself. Two weeks ago, Apple mentioned this idea in its updated rules. I did the important part boldly:
4.9 Streaming Games
Streaming games are allowed as long as they meet all guidelines. For example, every game update must be submitted for review, developers must provide appropriate metadata for searching, games must use in-app purchase to unlock features or functionality, etc. Of course, there are always open internet and web browser apps to reach all users outside of the App Store.
Amazon uses the workaround? Not that surprising. What is surprising is that Google, Nvidia, Microsoft, and others have waited so long.
Some of Luna's first confirmed games.
We have known for a decade that you can play a top-notch game in a web browser. If I exaggerate, it's only three months: in December 2010, I wrote about streaming Mass Effect 2 in the web browser on an original Atom netbook with the service that would later transform into Sony's PlayStation Now.
And Google has known for eight of the last ten years that a web browser can also stream these games natively: Before running the entire company, Sundar Pichai was the one demonstrating just that on a Google stage. Stadia was launched with support for Chromebooks and the Chrome web browser – but also with an app for Android and an app that can't play games for iOS.
Meanwhile, Nvidia's GeForce Now recently made the leap to Chromebooks by creating a WebRTC version of their app that may have opened the door to a web browser version in addition to their apps for Mac, Windows, and Android – one Door that apparently already opened this wide works if you really try. Some Redditors recently reported that Stadia will also work on iOS if you think you are using a supported web browser:
There were of course questions about how well these services were doing on the web, especially when it came to controller support. And sure, maybe Google, Nvidia, and Microsoft could optimize performance and quality if they had a native app instead of relying on web standards – and in the case of iOS, if Apple relies on the WebKit browser engine, they all have to use iOS -Browser used by Apple on. (This is also part of the App Store rules. See 2.5.6.)
But run it – apparently Amazon is ready to save some of the success of its new Luna platform to iOS web browsers.
With Apple unwilling to budge and Amazon showing a way forward, it may only be a matter of time before others do the same. While I'm not entirely sure about Microsoft … I'll explain why in a future story.