I’ll be the first person to crack jokes about Nintendo being great at selling you crap you already own. Namely, new versions of the Nintendo DS. In fact, that joke was one of several I made when commenting pre-E3 about “Things We’ll NEVER See — But Want To.” So you’d think that Nintendo’s unveiling of the Nintendo DSi — a revamped version of the DS with a larger, crisper screen, improved audio and a cell phone-like camera — I’d be writing a big, fat “here we go again!” Instead, I offer this bold prediction: the Nintendo DSi is the company’s first step toward its long-term vision of creating a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) a la the Palm devices.
Nintendo’s E3 2008 press conference was largely panned, primarily for its lack of new-game announcements. But while many in the crowd fought-off sleep in the press conferences waning moments, Nintendo spoke casually — and briefly — of a day when gamers would use their Nintendo DS to check their airline flight schedule, check-in for their flight and perhaps even order a cup of coffee. The latter is already taking place in Seattle, where baseball fans can use their DS to order items that are delivered directly to their seat. The first two points, however, were wildly new statements from Nintendo, and by and large, they went ignored.
Yet with the announcement of the Nintendo DSi, those brief mentions can no longer be overlooked. This new hardware is the first step toward Nintendo realizing its vision of a PDA like device.
When Microsoft announced the original Xbox, gamers were excited to have a new console option, but older audiences viewed the move as little more than Microsoft’s latest attempt to “own” the living room. With Xbox Live Marketplace taking off and movie studios signing on to distribute films and TV shows digitally, it’s clear that the original Xbox was Microsoft’s way to wiggle its way out of the office and into the entertainment center. People suspected it before the first Xbox launched, and Xbox Live Marketplace’s current success validates those suspicions.
So why the naivete surrounding the Nintendo DSi, particularly in light of Nintendo’s own E3 statements? When unveiling the Nintendo DSi, the company logically touted the new gameplay possibilities with a camera. After all, Nintendo broke the game-interaction mold with the Wii, so claiming its developers would do the same with the DSi camera wasn’t much of a stretch for their marketing department. Sony may have been doing camera interactions for years with the EyeToy, and Microsoft may have punched into the scene with its Xbox Live Vision Camera several years ago, but Nintendo incorporating a camera will have radical gameplay ramifications. Well, so say their marketers.
Posturing aside, the camera is not strictly a game device, and anyone who believes that claim is just being foolish. First there’s a camera, the only hardware change required for a PDA transition. Then there’s an Internet browser, which is a simple update via WiFi or cartridge. The DSi already has a microphone. It already has a touch screen, too, albeit a far less-sexy one that the iPhone’s. At that point, even without any more updates, the DSi is essentially a PDA. Internet connection? Yep…now go check-in for your flight. Microphone? Yep…now take that phone call via the earphones and talk back via the DSi’s base. Touch screen? Yep…now type that email or start instant-messaging your friends.
These conclusions are basic connect-the-dots exercises, and it’s not unreasonable to expect Nintendo to implement them at some point. In fact, judging by the company’s own long-term vision, which it shared briefly at E3 and about which it promised “more details in the future,” the Nintendo PDA is almost a certainty. Is the DSi a gaming device? Of course it is. But one can easily argue that the iPhone and iTouch can be gaming devices as well. The iPhone is a phone at its core, but it also plays games, music and videos. What’s the difference, then, with a DSi device being a game system at its core that also happens to offer Internet, phone, video and music options? With one more hardware upgrade that incorporates a massive SD Card or onboard Flash memory, Nintendo would have its very first PDA.
I don’t know anything that the analysts don’t. I don’t have any inside information or Nintendo informants. And I don’t understand how Nintendo’s airline flight check-in vision has gone ignored for these past several months. The company clearly hinted at E3 that it has plans for the DS that extend far beyond gaming. The Nintendo DSi is the first indication that it’s pursuing those goals, and it seems to be doing so without people even realizing it. At some E3 in the not-too-distant future, don’t be surprised to hear Satoru Iwata unveil the Nintendo DSa (Dual-Screen Assistant). Just don’t claim that it’s solely for games — even if a Mii-like character is positioned as the on-screen “assistant.” Nintendo’s much more business savvy than that, even if Nintendo fans don’t want to admit it.
— Jonas Allen