We’ve just gotten a sneak peek at Chess With Friends, a new iPhone application that is due to appear on the App Store within the next few days (pending Apple’s approval process). There are already a number of chess games available on the App Store, but most of these require that games be played out in one long session, or are played through Email with strangers. Chess With Friends is taking a different approach, offering turn-based asynchronous sessions with people in your contact list that will likely appeal to a much broader user base by more effectively leveraging the iPhone’s untapped network effect.
Chess is a hugely popular game but most people don’t have time to play it for hours at a time – a fact that is especially apparent when you’re trying to find a friend who has long enough to play a match. To deal with this, Chess With Friends just asks you to make a move at a time at your leisure, which your friend can respond to hours or even days later. You can also keep multiple games going at the same time (visible in a scrollable list). The result is reminiscent of the massively popular Scrabulous Facebook app (now called Lexulous) that allowed users to play multiple turn-based Scrabble games at the same time, choosing new moves at their convenience.
Unfortunately the app has one serious flaw: there currently isn’t any easy way to figure out if it’s your move – you’ll need to periodically open the app yourself. This would be a non-issue if Apple had made good on its promise to release a background Push Notification system by September, but the company missed the target date and has been mum about the feature’s launch. After the MobileMe fiasco it’s clear that Apple wants any future cloud-based features to be perfect, but the lack of Push is proving to be a severe handicap to both networked games and social networks.