Game Center builds on Apple’s two strengths

Sep 10, 2010
Games

Gaming and social media are users’ favorite apps and Game Center combines the two, yet early reviews of the service are mixed. Also in today’s App Industry Report, Google is Apple’s new Microsoft. How many apps do you own? If you’re an iPhone owner the average is 40 apps, according to a new study on […]

Gaming and social media are users’ favorite apps and Game Center combines the two, yet early reviews of the service are mixed. Also in today’s App Industry Report, Google is Apple’s new Microsoft.

How many apps do you own?

If you’re an iPhone owner the average is 40 apps, according to a new study on mobile phone usage from Nielsen. Android users have 25 apps and Blackberry users own 22. Nielsen studied 4,000 smartphone users, each having downloaded at least one app in the past month. The most popular apps are games in general but the most downloaded app across all platforms is Facebook.

Now, Apple (AAPL) looks to capitalize on the connection between gaming and social networking, as it introduced the new Game Center software into iTunes. Game Center allows for multi-player gaming over an iPhone or an iPod touch, and as of this writing, there are 29 games available where you can challenge friends. Those games include the ridiculously popular Farmville, Flight Control and the enduring Pac-Man.

There will certainly be more games available for shared playing as developers start to incorporate the tools that Apple’s upgraded iOS 4.1 have made possible. Of course, it’s early in Game Center’s lifespan, and one influential game reviewer offers a mixed review.

“While I came away distinctly underwhelmed with Game Center in terms of both design and implementation, it’s clear that this is only the first step, and the fact that it’s been made at all is hugely positive,” writes Jon Mundy for Pocket Gamer.

The bad, according to Mundy:

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— “The stylistic choices Apple has made with regard to the appearance of Games Center …  looks like a cheap online poker application.”– “The cheesy banners denoting Friends, Games and Achievements feel like they should lead to the appropriate sections when touched.”– “There’s not a lot to shout about at the moment. Arguably the two biggest games to have converted to the service so far – Fieldrunners and Flight Control – feel like they’ve had the service sprung on them at the last minute.”

The good:

— “The setup’s … reassuringly Apple-like in its simplicity.”– “The simple ‘ranked lower/higher than me’ summary on the Games in Common section tells you at a glance what you need to work on in order to overtake your buddies.”

Clearly, hard-core gamers who already play head-to-head over products like Xbox Live are likely to be picky, but we already know that Apple is best at creating a better, easier to use application that other companies may have pioneered. The iPod was not the fist digital music player and the iPhone was not the first smartphone, but Apple is the leader in both categories, so expect Game Center to become a solid and popular product.

As Mundy notes, “Bring on Version 2.0!”

Google is the new Microsoft

Apple’s loosening of its developer guidelines for creating apps has largely been seen as a nod to the increasing competition it faces from Android-based smartphones and the coming crop of tablets that will run the Google-backed OS. But I had another thought: It is a step by Apple to alleviate the problems it faced in the 1980s, after it refused to license its computer operating system to outside hardware makers.

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Microsoft (MSFT) and Apple took opposite approaches to personal computing. Microsoft, of course, developed MS-DOS and then Windows, which computer makers like Dell, H-P, Toshiba and countless others licensed to build their machines. The Microsoft operating platform became and remains the overwhelmingly dominant system. Apple, on the other hand, ended up with a market share in the single digits as it kept its OS to itself.

Today, Apple has used that same approach for hand-held gadgets with significantly better results, as the iPhone, iPod and now iPad have become market-leading products. But Google (GOOG) quickly adopted the Microsoft model — ironic, isn’t it — and is seeing the love spread. Android is everywhere with products made by everyone. Now, according to a new survey from Gartner, Android is already the No. 2 mobile operating platform. It trails Nokia’s struggling Symbian system and is ahead of the mobile OS platforms from Research in Motion, Apple and Microsoft. Not bad for less than 2 years.

Apple, in response, will start to bring the iPhone to other carriers, hopefully develop other models of the iPhone for those carriers, and, as we saw this week, clarify and loosen rules that have stymied developers. Those developers also work on Android apps, so keeping them happy is critical.

After all, it’s doubtful HTC or Samsung will be making a phone based on iOS, even if they’d love to.

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Eric Benderoff

Eric Benderoff is the principal of BendableMedia.com, an editorial services firm, and a founding member of the Appolicious content strategy team. His personal technology column for the Chicago Tribune has appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide. He is a regular guest on Chicago's WGN Radio and is a frequent commentator about consumer technology on national TV news programs.

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