By Dan Moren
October 20, 2020 10:56 AM PT
Remote Play brings Xbox games to your iOS device, if your network can handle it
Note: This story has not been updated since 2020.
The promise of playing Xbox games on my iOS devices has been tempting me for a while; though I’m not a hardcore gamer, there are a number of titles I like to play on my Xbox One, most recently Star Wars: Squadrons. Plus, the ability to still do some gaming, even when the sole TV in our household is tied up, definitely has some appeal.
So the news a few weeks back that remote play was coming to Microsoft’s iOS app was welcome indeed. Unlike the contentious Project xCloud game streaming, remote play falls into a more standard (and, to Apple, more acceptable) category of apps: it’s basically a screen-sharing client. So, the Xbox app for iPhone and iPad now lets you screen share with the Xbox in your house over your local network or, if your connection is good enough, the Internet.
The real question is, how well does it work?
My quick test results have sadly been mixed at best. I tried a couple games both via my local Wi-Fi as well as via the cell connection on my iPhone 11 Pro.
The cellular network connection produced fairly dismal results, though that could certainly all be chalked up to bad reception in my neighborhood. There was a lot of crackling in audio, gameplay was difficult at the best of times (there was occasionally some serious latency even just in navigating menus), and graphics were heavily artifacted, often beyond recognition (and don’t even get me started about trying to read onscreen text in a game like Marvel’s Avengers). I also lost the network connection with the Xbox a couple times, leaving me staring at a “reconnecting” screen.
On Wi-Fi, the quality of graphics looks much better—especially on my iPhone 11 Pro’s very nice display—and games were definitely playable, but the experience still paled next to normal console play. In particular, I’ve been plagued by network issues which have proved difficult to diagnose or resolve. The Xbox app repeatedly tells me that there are “problems” with my network, resulting in skipping audio, jittery gameplay, and some graphical artifacts. Between those skips and jitters, the gameplay is surprisingly responsive, especially in terms of latency—which is to say, when I hit the throttle control in Squadrons, the ship throttles up; I don’t notice a significant delay there or elsewhere, such as in firing my ship’s weapons, though I would still be hesitant to take on another human player head-to-head.1
The experience actually makes me feel like there’s the potential for a solid gameplay experience here, if those network issues could be eliminated. Unfortunately, I’m not sure whether the issue really is my network infrastructure or some flaw in the app or console software. (I have my Xbox One hardwired to a gigabit switch which, in turn, is connected directly to my home’s eero base station; both my iPhone and iPad are connected to a 5GHz Wi-Fi network, so my options for further tweaking are kind of limited.) We’ll have to see if the iPhone 12 Pro arriving later this week makes any difference at all, but I would frankly be surprised.
So, while the idea of remote play is sound, and the technology is so nearly there, the collision with real world factors seems to limit just how broadly feasible this might be. It’s possible that those with a really optimized network or top of the line hardware will get a lot out of remote play, but for the rest of us, it’s just another technology that feels like it’s not quite here yet.
- I restricted my testing to Squdarons‘s Training mode; I definitely wouldn’t be playing Fleet Battles here. ↩
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @email@example.com or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]
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