Apple's Social Network Is Coming -- Look Out, Facebook!

Apple social gaming network Game centreApple iPhone software exec Scott Forstall previews Game centre in April

In addition to new iPods and a new TV-watching device, Apple could introduce a new social network tomorrow. Look out, Facebook!OK, it’s not a big, elaborate Facebook killer, so Mark Zuckerberg and company don’t actually have much to worry about.

But Apple’s “Game centre” might take some of Facebook’s juice away in iPhone gaming, which could be a drag.

Apple has been preparing a social gaming network for iOS apps for months. The company gave a preview of Game centre at an event in April, and we expect to hear more about it at Apple’s iPod event tomorrow. The iPod touch — arguably Apple’s flagship gaming device — is due for an upgrade, and now seems like a good time to launch Game centre.

The basic features Apple announced in April include the ability to invite friends to play a game against you; have the servers match you up with a random person of the same skill level for a game; leaderboards; and achievements. We assume you’ll have a basic profile, and will be able to add friends in various ways, as other social gaming networks function.

Apple isn’t the first to launch a social gaming network for the iPhone: Several already exist, such as Ngmoco’s Plus+, OpenFeint, and others. Presumably, Facebook would want to have a play here, given how successful its gaming platform has become on Facebook itself.

But the idea is that an Apple-made social network, built right into the OS, could be more universally adopted, and not under the control of a single studio. (Who knows, those third-party systems may even link into Game centre at some point.)

Bigger picture, better social gaming on the iPhone could make it a stronger competitor not just to other phone platforms, such as Android and Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows Phone 7, but also to handheld consoles like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP. And if Apple’s new living-room gadget has gaming elements, Game centre could be useful there, too.

So what’s coming tomorrow?

  • As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber wrote earlier this month, look for “a bunch of Game centre demos during the event.”
  • It’ll be interesting to see if Apple got any of the big studios, such as EA or Gameloft, to adopt Game centre. It’s easy to implement, we hear.
  • It’ll be interesting to see if Facebook login and social graph integration is ever part of the Game centre roadmap. It’s not part of the first version, we’re told by someone who has played around with it.

Does Apple have any social mojo? Or is it too uptight?

Will it flop like all the social stuff Google has tried over the years? Or will Game centre be the next Xbox Live?

We’ll find out more tomorrow.

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