Apple yeaserday announced seven new services, or "tentpoles," coming to the iPhone. The sixth of which is called Game Center, a feature that will bring social networking to iPhone games this summer. The new feature will allow players to join the social gaming network, invite their friends, meet others, post their scores on leaderboards and perhaps most familiar to almost all "hardcore" gamers, earn Achievements.
These features are not unheard of in online gaming networks. Xbox LIVE and, to a lesser exstent, PlayStation Network have cemented themselves in the realm of online console gaming, it has yet to be accomplished to such an extent on a handheld. That may change soon. That is, if Apple's online network is as powerful as it sounds. If Apple can add enough to their platform, it may force their competition to consider a stronger online strategy when creating networks for their handhelds.
Sony would have to create an online system on par with, or possibly surpassing, Game Center to remain competitive with their PSP line. Microsoft may not feel it directly, because they don't have a handheld system. However, it may provide further proof that a great online gaming network doesn't have to come with a monthly fee.
There is also the slim possibility of Microsoft deciding to enter the handheld gaming market in the upcoming console generation. If that ever becomes the case, they will no doubt want to translate Xbox LIVE into something that can be used on their portable device. They may have to push their way in, but the advantage for Microsoft here would be that they would have the chance to carefully observe the playing field as Apple steps up to bat. They also have millions of Xbox LIVE users.
What Apple has, though, is everyone who uses an iPhone, and that is a broad audience. As more people become accustomed to smartphones, Twitter, Facebook and other types of technologies and social networks, features like Game Center will seem less frightening to them. It will be as easy as navigating their iPhone's menu with the slide of a finger.
Social networking and gaming have already begun their merge with such applications as Farmville and Cafe World. Friends connect and communicate while helping each other out in these games. The iPhone is a unique enough platform to allow for this kind of interaction. Perhaps Game Center will give them just another means of keeping in contact with friends while being entertained.