iPhone getting proprietary games social network and ad service, integrated into smartphone OS

Another big games push for Apple

Apple has announced a significant number of improvements to the iPhone OS this evening.

And the key news for games developers was the upcoming addition of a new games social network for iPhone games, called Game Center.

The firm gathered a number of press together at its US campus to detail the many additions it was making to the smartphone’s OS with the 4.0 SDK.

Gaming grabbed a key moment in the spotlight.

There are 50,000 game and entertainment titles for iPhone on the App Store, said Scott Forstall, SVP of software at Apple – there’s 4,321 games on the DS and 2,477 on the PSP, he said in comparison.

“Gaming is extremely popular on the iPhone and iPod touch,” said Forstall. “In fact, we have over 50,000 titles. Let’s look at the competition. If you look at dedicated gaming devices like the PSP and DS, this just blows them out of the water.”

Apple’s decision to add a social networking element will seemingly address the wash of games on the store. Game Center includes matchmaking, achievements, leader boards and friend invites.

"We do automatic matchmaking,” explained Forstall. “We”ll find others with a similar ability and match them against you. You can see how you’re progressing in a game with achievements.”

The news may frustrate some third-party developers. As games functions were initially a surprise hit on iPhone, a number of firms stepped in to offer a third-party Xbox Live-style mutliplayer and achievements backend for iPhone.

Ngmoco’s Plus+, Aurora Feint’s OpenFeint X and Scoreloop are just three such services – but this has meant a fragmentation and no unified standard.

"At a stroke, Apple appears to have obliterated the business models of companies like Aurora Feint and Scoreloop – at least on iPhone," our sister site Mobile Entertainment points out. "They may now be forced to accelerate their moves to other smartphone platforms."

The Game Centre was just one part of a multi-pronged push to overhaul the iPhone service once again – it also unveiled its own proprietary ad service.

Built into the 4.0 SDK, iAd puts an advertising service directly into the OS – something which, again, other firms had already addressed with their own solutions.

But Apple CEO Steve Jobs said: "We think most of this mobile advertising really sucks. We thought we would be able to make some contributions. This is about helping our developers make some money through advertising to keep their free apps free.

“We want to change the quality of the advertising as well,” said Jobs.

He said that iAd will create ’emotional’ ads with real engagement that keep users in the Apps that feature advertising and don’t send them to external sites. That means video and interactive content in the App, using HTML 5; "the ads keep you in the app". Jobs demoed a rich Toy Story 3 ad, which effectively tries to feel like an App in itself, which loaded from a banner inserted in another App.

The ads can link on to in-App purchases of iTunes content.

Apple will sell the ads, and give 60 per cent of revenue to the developer.

Other new features today included long-awaited multitasking functions for – the much asked for feature will allow users to run multiple apps at once – plus improved mail functions, folders for content plus enterprise features.

iPhone OS 4 will also see Apple’s iBooks e-books store come to iPhone and iPod touch, with iPad owners able to stop reading a book on that device and pick up on the same page on iPhone (and vice versa).
A developer preview of the new iPhone OS 4.0 is being released today ahead of the official roll out for consumers in the summer.

Only iPhone 3GS and iPod Touch 3rd Gen will run all the new features – iPhone 3G and iPod Touch 2nd Gen will run "many things", but not multitasking, while the original iPhone will not get the updates at all.

Apple expects the features to be added to the iPad by the autumn.

The new OS has more than 1,500 new APIs for developers to get their teeth into, including those listed above.

Apple also gave a raft of stats at the event:

– It has now sold more than 450,000 iPads in the US, and 3.5 million iPad apps have been downloaded. Plus 600,000 e-books.

– There are more than 185,000 apps on the App Store now, and the store has passed the four billion downloads milestone.

– More than 85 million iPhones and iPod touches have been sold globally.

There was no ‘And Finally’ moment to show off a new iPhone, but CEO Steve Jobs did deliver some swipes at Adobe – giving a flat "no" in response to a question about whether Flash might make its way into iPhone 4.

Meanwhile, he criticised the openness of Google’s Android platform. "There’s a porn store for Android. Anyone can download them. You can, your kids can. That’s just not a place we want to go."

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