Stadia comes to the iPhone and iPad with new iOS beta
Google Stadia has finally made its way to iOS over a year after launch. The company’s mobile web beta for the iPhone and iPad, first announced last month, is launching today. That means any Stadia user on either its free tier or its paid Stadia Pro subscription will be able to access their library of Stadia games on Apple devices.
Google, like other competing cloud services, is using mobile Safari due to Apple’s restrictions on cloud gaming apps that mean platforms like Stadia can’t exist in their current form on the App Store. You can access Stadia through its website on Safari or by creating a home screen icon that will turn the service into a progressive web app, so it acts almost identically to a native one.
Unlike Nvidia’s GeForce Now or the planned mobile web version of Microsoft’s xCloud, however, Google Stadia has a free tier without restrictions and now offers two free-to-play games available (Destiny 2 and Super Bomberman R), with more to come. (Nvidia also offers a free tier for GeForce Now, but it has a one-hour session limit.) That means anyone with a Gmail account looking to try Stadia can give it a shot on an iPhone or iPad with minimal effort.
That accessibility could be key for Stadia’s growth going forward. Much of the early struggles of Stadia, and the many failed or otherwise unknown cloud platforms that have come before it, have to do with a mix of technical issues and economic hurdles, roadblocks that mean actually using the service as your primary gaming platform is more cumbersome and costly than the benefits. But Stadia is in a much different place now than it was at launch. The service not only has a free tier and free-to-play games, but it also has access to high-profile holiday releases like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and the just-released Cyberpunk 2077.
CD Projekt Red’s new open-world sci-fi game has been plagued by bugs and performance issues mainly affecting players on last-gen game consoles, which is a boon for the Stadia version. Google had to shut down a promotion for the game that awarded free Stadia controllers and Chromecast Ultra devices to anyone who preordered or purchased Cyberpunk 2077 on Stadia up to a week after its release due to overwhelming demand.
Adding iOS support may add to the momentum Stadia is experiencing right now. I’ve had access to the beta on The Verge’s Stadia test account for the last week or so where I’ve been testing Cyberpunk 2077 and other games on my iPad Pro and iPhone 11 Pro. It works remarkably well, even with the built-in touch controls.
I wouldn’t recommend relying on those touch controls for anything that requires precise input, but it was nice to know I could still maneuver the Destiny 2 interface using my iPhone touchscreen to perform simple tasks, like carousing the in-game Tower hub to pick up bounties or check my character’s inventory.
Instead of touch, you’re better off using either a Stadia controller or one of the supported Bluetooth gamepads like Microsoft’s Xbox One controller or the Sony DualShock 4, and those controllers work seamlessly via mobile Safari with no issues I’ve encountered so far.
I will say that you have to rely on a Wi-Fi connection to reliable play on iOS unless you happen to be the owner of a rather rare and situational Ethernet to Lightning or USB adapter accessory. That means you’re not going to get super smooth visuals or performance all of the time.
Still, a lot of the visual hiccups you might experience from using Stadia on an average Wi-Fi connection on a larger screen are not as noticeable when playing on the iPhone or iPad. In particular, I’ve found playing Cyberpunk 2077 on my iPad Pro to be a pretty consistent and solid experience, more so in some cases than on my PlayStation 5 where I find the game often crashes numerous times during a single play session.
Due to Apple’s restrictions, Google says you will need to perform a tiny workaround to get the Stadia web version on your iOS device’s home screen as a progressive web app, and it’s created this graphic to explain it:
The big caveat right now is that there are not a whole lot of great games on Stadia that cater to mobile players. I don’t see anyone going out of their way to boot up the new Assassin’s Creed or Cyberpunk 2077 on an iPhone screen, except to marvel at the novelty of it. I think the iPad is primarily where Stadia on iOS will shine for the players who have a nice enough screen, a fast enough connection, and a controller to use.
But iOS support opens up a lot of avenues for Stadia — not just to bring it more players looking for a more robust mobile gaming solution but also to promote cloud gaming to developers making the kinds of games fit for mobile screens. If Google cozies up to more indie developers and starts supporting more of the less graphical-intensive experiences you might see on, say, a Nintendo Switch, that could make Stadia a much more competitive platform.