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by adam mathes
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Nintendo's Next Handheld

Nintendo appears to be struggling with their latest handheld console, slashing the price and executives personally taking responsibility.

But then I saw the 3DS analog stick add-on, and now I’m actually worried about Nintendo.

A bulky analog stick add-on? This is the wrong direction.

The problem with the 3DS

3DS does not seem compelling to me vs. carrying my iPhone. It also doesn’t seem competitive vs. buying kids an iPod Touch.

If it fails those tests, I don’t know who will buy it.

Tiny and tough

Here’s the handheld I’d like to see Nintendo make: an underpowered (compared to the 3DS) durable clamshell handheld like the Gameboy Advance SP, but thinner. With more than enough power to easily play GBA games, and DS games, and have battery to last for days.

I don’t care about 3D. At all. Sorry.

I want to play fun 2D games with something that has a real joystick and buttons.

Software

No cartridges, and only the Nintendo eStore, but with some changes.

The entire first-party Gameboy, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance, and DS libraries, priced competitvely with iOS games:

  • GB/GBC $0.99
  • GBA $1.99
  • DS $4.99

Playing those kinds of games - which people love! - sucks on the iPhone due to a lack of hardware controls

I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars to play Ocarina of Time - a game that really needs to be played on a televion - on a giant heavy handheld either.

I would, however, be happy to pay a few bucks for the best of the GBA on a sleek system with proper buttons.

Ring ring

Oh, and one more thing: it’s a phone.

A Nintendo phone?!

The smartphone - by virtue of being the one device people must carry with them - is the real competitor to Nintendo handhelds.

But Nintendo brings some unique qualities to the smartphone scene:

A trusted brand for families

Imagine the built-in “find my kid” application that Nintendo could ship on every phone. Parents can buy their child a Nintendo phone and know that Nintendo will prevent “bad” software from showing up on it without their permission. Imagine the built-in pay-as-you-go phone software, or the “kids mode” dialer that only allows calling of a few trusted numbers.

hardware/software/ux expertise

Few companies outside Apple have the culture and know-how to create first-class integrated experiences from the hardware layer all the way to the user experience. Nintendo - despite its smaller workforce - has it.

Unique software

An astounding back-catalog of unique software and brands: Mario, Zelda, Metroid, etc.

The Wii

A living room big screen presence to integrate with – the Wii.

But they’re not Apple

“Look what happened to Palm! Smartphone OS’s are a commodity! There’s only room for one Apple in the world.”

Maybe, but the one thing Apple has always struggled with as a platform is gaming. Even now, I wonder if iOS’s success as a gaming platform is despite Apple’s platform decisions, not because of them.

I’d love to see Nintendo do something bold with their next handheld, because I think the 3DS may, sadly, be a dead-end for them.

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