Portable gaming is about to completely change directions. For awhile, portable gaming was limited to devices from Nintendo and one Nintendo competitor per generation, whether it was the Sega Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket, or Sony PSP. But the iPhone and iPod Touch changed all that, with new ways to control games (touchscreen, accelerometer) and new ways to play (largely through connectivity).
Somehow, Apple has beat everyone to the punch. Windows Phone 7 isn't even out yet, and here Apple is, announcing a competitor to mobile Xbox Live, with Game Center. Surprisingly, this wasn't one of the rumored announcements today, but it's welcome all the same. Game Center is will be part of the iOS 4.1 package, released later this week.
Game Center is a new app for iPhone, all about multiplayer gaming. You compile a list of friends with whom to play, just like Xbox Live, and it even has its own gamerscore or achievements system (called "rep," apparently).
Steve Jobs even brought up Mike Capps, CEO of Epic Games, to show off a new, very cool-looking first-person shooter called Project Sword. That kind of mature gaming is just what Apple needs to compete with Microsoft, which has much more experience in gaming.
For now, this will overshadow the stand Microsoft made last month when they announced that Windows Phone 7 will take full advantage of Microsoft's gaming success—it won't just be a phone with some games, it'll be a full-fledged portable Xbox, with full Xbox Live capabilities (including gamerpoints and online play). You can check out my piece on the subject here. But rest assured, Windows Phone 7's games are a full step ahead of the iPhone's in terms of sophistication, maturity, and sheer power.