Wow. All I can say right now is wow. I just took advantage of a new workaround Google has put in place, tested, and now launched for iOS 14+ and iPadOS 14+ that allows full-blown Stadia on iPhones and iPads and I’m absolutely shocked at how well it works. I played a few minutes of Watchdogs on my iPad Mini with my Stadia controller wirelessly connected via Wi-Fi and not only was the whole thing completely playable: it was a great experience!
We’re already planning a quick how-to video detailing how to get things set up, but this is just about as straightforward as it gets. As long as you have an iPhone or iPad on iOS/iPadOS 14+, you’re good to go. Open Safari (yes, Safari and not Chrome), navigate to stadia.google.com, log in, and you’re already just about ready to roll. You can play right from here or hit the share icon up top near the URL bar and add Stadia to your homescreen (essentially making the Stadia PWA an app-like shortcut) and when you click that icon, the entire Stadia experience is at your fingertips. [UPDATE 12.22.2020 – here’s a video of the setup and the service in action!]
The only thing missing here is the ability to set up your controller and get it on the local Wi-Fi, but that can be handled with the Stadia app from the App Store. Actually pairing the controller to your game session and bascially everything else is doable in the PWA and, again, it’s amazing. It took me only a couple minutes to get the controller set up and to hop into a quick game and, as I did, I couldn’t believe how smooth and lag-free the whole experience was.
The power of the PWA
You have to remember, this is essentially all running in a Safari tab. Progressive Web Apps simply take the best web technologies available and wrap them up in a bow for the sake of good looks. For example, opening stadia.google.com in the Safari browser on my iPad gave me no functional difference in gameplay than it did with the app launched via the home screen shortcut. It’s all just for looks, but it makes for a very convincing show. After adding the shortcut to the home screen and launching a game in Stadia, you’d be hard-pressed to know that you aren’t actually running a native app installed via the App Store.
So, why did Google have to do this? Why not just launch an iPhone/iPad app? Well, mostly it revolves around services like Stadia and GeForce NOW offering services in their apps that violate Apple’s terms of service in the App Store. While the entire debate is murky and confusing, it appears Apple is trying to figure out a way to allow these types of apps in the App Store down the road, but the offer doesn’t seem great for Google, Microsoft, NVidia or Amazon at the moment.
In the most Google way possible, thought, Stadia has just gone right around these limitations and become completely playable on the mobile web, and this is why I think PWAs are going to eventually change the entire game. App stores from businesses like Google and Apple can honestly wield far too much control over what is available and what isn’t, choking off innovation in an attempt to simply squeeze more money out of the business model.
PWAs based on open web standards don’t have to adhere to these arbitrary rules. They can be enjoyed the same whether in a browser tab at a given URL or in a standalone window as an “installed” app. Either way, the tech is there for the user without the need of going through a store front to get it. While this presents issues to discovery for the end user, there are growing ways around that, too. The Google Play Store is slowly but surely offering PWAs in place of native apps for Chromebook users and this trend is clearly set to expand.
Additionally, app developers that are building powerful experiences on the web are getting better and better at getting users to adopt the PWA versus hunting down a native app for things like Twitter and YouTube TV and 2021 will likely see even more of that. PWA adoption is way, way up in 2020 and there’s no reason to think that doesn’t continue into 2021 and beyond.
Stadia on iOS/iPadOS is the once-humble web app flexing on us just a bit. It is delivering on the native app experience while also proving how valuable it is to be able to deliver this type of mobile computing experience without the need of a customary app store of any sort. All you need is a URL and the app is there waiting for you, ready to do what is needed, and powerful enough to make you not care one bit that it isn’t a native app. Stadia is showing what is possible with this type of software, and as a big fan of the open web and PWAs, I can’t be more excited about where all this is headed.