The Apple Music Event last Wednesday brought us a lot of new hardware and a new update for iOS and the latest incarnation of "the app for everything" and former music player iTunes. Besides the obvious iPod refresh, which satisfies my geekiest wishes confessed in the previous post, there are some news that are already shaking the app world.
Messing up with the gaming ecosystem
The most important has to be the announcement of the golden master version of iOS 4.1 unveiled and seeded to developers shorty after the event. I'll start with the announced debut of Game Center, an Xbox Live wannabe social gaming network that will connect iOS 4.1 gamers to share scores and achievements. There is certainly nothing revolutionary here, as Plus+, Crystal and more prominently,OpenFeint, have been around around for a while and have earned with their own right a large number of developer and user following. Is there any room for Apple in here or will it go above them all? This was the first shaker of Jobs' keynote and all the people affected were ready for it. OpenFeint, a largest of them was quick to respond to Game Center announcing the cross-platform availability of PlayTime, a feature that will enable Android and iOS gamers to play online with voice. This looks to me like a very interesting option for multiplayer games that require cooperation between players, as we have seen in first person shooters in PCs and consoles.
Everyone is waiting to see if Game Center can actually add anything new or if this is simply Apple jumping on to the bandwagon and the little rivalry between the already established networks. I'm confident that household names like Angry Birds and Pocket God will stay loyal to their networks, but new games are a different story and I think some devs have been waiting until this announcement to join one of them. Despite its looks, functionality and inexistent user base, Game Center has a great potential to become the number one player in the AppStore, since everyone has iTunes accounts making the sign up process much easier. I'm also concerned about new developers or newly released games that will join to capitalise on its novelty to get some more sales, and who knows, getting featured on the AppStore more easily. These gaming networks represent a lot of effort from people that believed in the potential of the iPhone platform and made a great contribution to the developer community, users and ultimately the marketplace. Apple didn't bid for this, even if it would have costed them peanuts. Apple officially supporting an open platform like OpenFeint would have been so different. By the end of the day, is up to use app freaks to decide.
HDR right where it hurts
The second shaker was the morning was an unexpected one and I honestly haven't read any hint about it. When Apple introduced video recording capabilities on the iPhone, only a handful of apps attempted to do it. Bundling in High Dynamic Range photography on the iOS is a serious kick in the nuts for a lot of developers in the popular Photography section of the AppStore. Who had this idea? What is the strategy behind it?
The iPhonerography blog, an essential on my reading list, highlights TrueHDR and Pro HDR (also chosen by TUAW) as recommended apps for those photo aficionados who like the HDR techniques. I'm not a big fan myself and haven't looked into much depth to it, but releasing this as a built-in feature must hurt developers a lot. Sure enough, Apple's traditional way of doing things limits users in many ways, so there will always be room for more tweaking and innovation. However, why would you want to harm a category on the AppStore that is making you money and that interests a very specific crowd? I don't know.
A social network just for music
It was also fun to see how Jobs explained its new social network attempt, Ping, as if nobody in the audience had ever used any other. Social networks have been around since 2002 and its rise has been one of the most important events in many industries in this decade. Rumours pointed out that Apple would introduce its own social network one year ago (subbed Genius back then), but the first release of Ping feels rather decaffeinated to me. Fair enough, Ping allow users to share their music with others directly on iTunes, well done, but lack many other features that most of us consider really basic in 2010. Again, I don't see any innovation here. In my opinion, the most prominent mistake is not being able to import contacts from other platforms (although I could see this coming). Macrumors noticed that initially Ping would be powered with Facebook Connect to import contacts, but an enquiry by Kara Swisher from The Wall Street Journal explained that this particular functionality was ditched as Facebook wanted "onerous terms that we could not agree to." Too bad Vanity Fair publishes its 100 List with Steve Jobs coming second after Mark Zuckerberg. You cannot always be the first.
If I was Jobs I would just have purchased something like Last.fm or Spotify, because anyway, streaming was only implemented for films and TV shows on the AppleTV, no music ever mentioned. But I would have probably named it differently, as it reminds me of Apple's new favourite but kind-of-evil search engine Bing from Microsoft. For many app freaks, Ping would just remind us of the application by Enflick, PingChat, but known to many simply as Ping after the first version of this instant messenger. Another example of Apple cannibalising its own marketplace?
I could imagine plenty of names for a social network better than Ping, specially is the term is used by many other established products. This was one of the lowest moments of the event in my opinion, as I have always thought of Ping as the killer app that made BlackBerry users stop laughing at iPhone owners. I guess nobody at Cupertino felt like this and didn't want to use any of the very-cool registered trademarks they already posses. It might be only a rant, but my opinion will change if Ping gets to the AppStore and affects the review system somehow. Aren't Amazon reviews a social network on their own? Maybe this time Ping shouldn't have started from scratch.