OS 4.0, Game Center and Developers (Oh My).
The much anticipated OS 4.0 keynote speech has left the industry in a whirlwind of talk, cluttering blogs, twitter and just about any other social feed you can get your hands on. There's an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the changes that have been discussed, but just what can people expect when 4.0 hits?
Live coverage of the event has wrapped up and as to be expected, audiences were left slightly awed by the promises Apple have made for their next major OS update. Much needed features for the iDevice range have been announced including: multitasking and background App processing; folder based app organization; and UI upgrades for the email client, certainly topped the list for most consumers.
But we wouldn't be a game site if we didn't make a special mention of Apple's new 'Game Center'. Anyone who plays games on an iDevice will already be familiar with existing services such as OpenFeint, Plus+ and Crystal that provide social features such as friend networks, multiplayer game matching and online scoreboards/achievements.
A major problem of the growth of these networks has been the fracturing of each community, requiring gamers to manage multiple networks and achievements - a real antithesis for what makes these networks so great. Furthermore, in most cases the developers of these networks have invested a lot of time and money for multiplayer game hosting services, something that smaller companies wouldn't be able to provide.
Details on how Game Center will work are a bit thin, but key features will include matchmaking, online scoreboards, achievements and social networking. While this sounds like Apple is trying to bump out competition, the reverse couldn't be more true. By levering the burden of social features off developers, 'social networks' are free to focus on more service oriented features such as virtual goods purchasing and multiplayer game hosting.
Simon Jeffery, Ngmoco's Chief Publishing Officer announced that their company had already anticipated this move from Apple, "and is happy to see a cleaner developer and consumer experience on the horizon."
"As we demonstrated at the recent GDC, plus+ took a strategic shift in direction a few months ago toward being a service, and less about being a set of social gaming features."
And they're not the only ones glad to see that Apple have made this move. OpenFeint X recently went live with its virtual goods system and, "... is currently built on top of OpenFeint and in the future it will also sit on Apple’s Game Center social graph, achievements and leaderboards so developers and gamers don’t miss a step,” said Jason Citron, CEO of Aurora Feint.
OS 4.0 features aside, the Game Center is a huge step forward for gaming on Apple's iDevices and represents a key shift towards providing stronger services for consumers and developers alike.
Other handheld gaming platforms have considered the iPhone to be only a minor threat to their business, but after the wildly popular success of unified social networks like XBox Live, it's possible that this news will push Apple one step closer to providing a superior mobile gaming experience.
Chillingo were contacted for comment over their plans to support Game Center with their recently launched Crystal network, but were unable to comment before publication.
Apple's sneak-peek OS 4.0 video available here.
(For a full break-down of announced features, check out gdgt.com's coverage here)