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Summary:

While the Nintendo 3DS didn’t generate the kind of hype Apple product launches normally see did when it debuted in the U.S. on Sunday, by all accounts it’s still doing very well. But can it compete with iOS devices? No, nor should it try.

black-nintendo-3ds

Nintendo launched its 3DS mobile gaming console in the U.S. on Sunday. While the device didn’t result in the kinds of mass stock outages and lines that the iPad 2 generated, by most accounts, it did pretty well. Nintendo claimed record pre-orders for the device and forecasted shipments of 4 million units through March 31. Recent analyst predictions estimate the 3DS will easily exceed week one sales of the company’s DS from 2004. But despite all that success, the company will never be able to take back the foothold Apple has gained in the gaming market.

The reason? As game developer Olly Farshi so aptly put it when we were discussing the 3DS’ merits, iOS is a platform, and the 3DS is a toy. Toys are something we’re more likely to get bored with, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place. It may seem like a dismissive way to characterize a technically impressive new device that successfully brings a 3-D experience to the palm of your hand, but it’s exactly how prospective customers will think about the two when weighing a purchase decision.

That doesn’t mean Nintendo will lose out in every case. Some users are genuinely looking for a toy, not a platform. A parent, for example, might not want her children to have access (even restricted access) to a robust app ecosystem limited only by the decisions of the developers who program for it (and the policies guiding Apple’s app review process). That parent may also be reluctant to hand over an expensive and still quite fragile piece of electronic equipment to a child, which is what the iPhone and iPad are, despite offering competitive price points for their respective markets. Even the iPod touch, while more affordable than the 3DS depending on your storage option, can’t really be described as a “toy” with regard to its construction or design.

Nintendo promises apps, Netflix support and other additional features for the 3DS that could make it more like a platform in the future, but that doesn’t mean it’ll really become one. Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime made that clear when he recently went on record saying his company isn’t interested in working with amateur developers. It’s these devs that made iOS the market-changing platform that it has become, and inspired a legion of copycats.

Does that mean Nintendo isn’t “getting it?” Maybe, but even if it was, it wouldn’t change the fact that iOS has profoundly altered the gaming market, and Nintendo will benefit most from respecting those changes instead of trying to struggle against them. The introduction of 3D to a handheld console was a good start, as it clearly positions the 3DS in the realm of “fun.” No one’s going to want to run project reporting or invoicing apps on a screen that lets figures leap out at them.

The iPad 2 brings a lot of exciting new potential as an Apple gaming machine, thanks to its ability to output to a connected display in full 1080p HD. One title at least is already working to make this happen. But the iPad (and other iOS devices) are everything to everyone. They represent an evolution of the computing model that may replace a gaming device (among other things) for some users, but not for all, just like home computers never occluded the console gaming market. Nintendo may ultimately have to accept that Apple is better at reaching non-traditional gamers than it could ever be, but that doesn’t mean it’s curtains for the gaming company.

Is the 3DS an iPhone or iPad competitor? No, and Nintendo is generally doing a good job of not treating it as such (although promises of apps tend to confuse things). Categories are merely shifting, and there’s bound to be some jockeying for position, but in the end, both platforms and toys will be able to comfortably coexist.

  1. Sorry lot of silly statements in this article.

    LIke no wants to run project reporting on a screen that leaps out at you?

    Does that really need to be said? Pointless.

    Or 1080p brings exciting new gaming potential to the iPad?

    Absurd. iPad doesn’t really have the power to much of any kind of 1080p gaming and it doesn’t matter really. The games matter. And what control are you going to use? Tilt the ipad around in the air while tethered to your tv? Meh.

    Or that customers will think of the DS as a toy. And people get bored with toys.

    IT is a toy. It’s a gaming machine. And all video games are toys. And everyone gets bored with them eventually and wants something new. Guess what? People then buy new software when bored. And newsflash people get bored with ipad games and buy new ones.

    The 3ds is a gaming/entertainment device. The reason to buy is for the unique gaming experiences found in the 3d feature and in the dual screen form factor, stylus input, touchscreen, buttons, dpad and analog stick etc. And in Nintendo own first party stable of games.

    The extra entertainment features are a secondary bonus.

    Nintendo would do best to stick to what it does best. Make great unique gaming experience you can’t find elsewhere. Not to copy Apple.

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    1. Hamranhansenhansen Thursday, March 31, 2011

      Yeah, game = toy. They are synonyms. Sheesh.

      No, nobody is going to run project reporting on a Nintendo handheld game.

      Yes, iPad 2 can power 1080p at 60 fps. Over HDMI wire right now, potentially over AirPlay wireless in the future.

      Yes, iPad 2 hooked up to your TV for gaming is compelling if you already have the iPad and the TV for other purposes, like the about 25 million users and counting. Especially when you pay $10 for the game, which is about 1/4 of a Nintendo game.

      The gaming features of iPad are a secondary bonus. Most people aren’t going to choose between an iPad 2 and Nintendo, but if you buy an iPad for one of its other 300,000 uses then you essentially get its gaming features for free and you have less time and interest in a dedicated game device.

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    2. @Chris:
      Many statements in your post are silly as well.

      You seem very dismissive with regard to 1080p output from the iPad. I’m actually pretty excited about that possibility. If you’ve seen the Real Racing HD video, it looks very impressive. The output isn’t a mirrored screen either. They show the race map on the iPad while displaying the game output to the TV. Very cool. Sure, tethering isn’t ideal, but AirPlay can’t be far behind. This kind of thing is clearly the beginning of something much bigger. It’s not far fetched to imagine devices like this eating away at dedicated consoles in the same way the iPod/iPhone has been hammering the handheld gaming market like the Nintendo DS, etc.

      While there is some merit to your comment about Nintendo sticking to what it does best, you have to realize new capabilities from more general purpose devices are a legitimate threat to their business. Nobody expected the iPhone to be a threat to the Nintendo DS. That challenge came out of left field. If gaming is even close to being similar, the general purpose device will win every time due to cost justifications, etc.

      Finally, speaking of cost, the real advantage here for iOS devices is the app store. Games of similar quality are just a small fraction of the cost of their Nintendo counterparts. Not to mention the sheer volume of free applications, etc. I’ve seen it myself. My daughter loved her DS until she had an iPod Touch. Since then, the DS has collected dust. She very quickly realized the benefit of the app store, etc. Parents see that advantage even more.

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  2. It doesn’t make sense to compare the 3DS (and DS in general) with iOS devices. The 3DS is a gaming console built specifically for gaming and iOS devices are more like handheld computers in that they are built to do almost anything.

    When it comes to the true gaming experience, sure the two have their place but iOS will always lose out. Sure the are some decent games out there for iOS, but even those good ones can’t stand up to those of the 3DS because the it’s one and only intention is for gaming and thus provides a much richer experience. Because of this I will never put down my DS and soon 3DS in favor of an iOS device.

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