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iPhone Game Center: OS 4’s Most Revolutionary Feature?

Reading the coverage and comments on iPhone OS 4, I’ve seen some sentiment that Apple isn’t really doing anything fresh, and is merely catching up on features already offered on other mobile phones. That’s true for some things, but not with iPhone Game Center.

The service will be a social networking layer for iPhone games. Players can invite their friends to multiplayer games, and in lieu of friends, they can use a matchmaking service to find other players. There appear to be achievements for in-game tasks, which accumulate in a sort of meta-game, and there are online leaderboards as well.

As a list of bullet points, Game Center is nothing new. It’s more or less a clone of Xbox Live, which offers all the same features. Even on the iPhone, the existing Plus+ and OpenFeint networks offer friends lists, achievements and leaderboards.

So, why is this revolutionary? Because there isn’t a single mobile gaming platform that’s already doing it. Sony dropped the ball when it said last year that the PSP won’t support achievement-like trophies, and there’s no platform-wide invite feature that encourages players to jump between games. Nintendo’s just oblivious when it comes to online gaming, and Microsoft, which arguably could do great things with Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7, will still be months from launch when iPhone Game Center arrives.

Predictions are always risky, but I’d be surprised of other phone platforms and portable consoles don’t scramble to follow Apple’s lead. You can’t say that about multitasking, folders and customizable wallpapers.