How now cash-cow?

In Japan the undisputed hardware best-seller is, beyond any doubt, the Nintendo DS. It continues to sell and annex shelf-space all over Tokyo. New colours are released regularly and all get swallowed with great excitement by the masses. Now there is even talk of a DS Lite v.1.5 which I’m sure will prove just as popular, with owners of a DS shelling out yet again for a new version. I probably will. I’m sure others will too.

The success behind the DS could be attributed to a few factors. In my casual observation they appear to concern:
Pricing – Though not exactly cheap,they don’t break the bank either. The software library too is affordable, with bigger titles still coming in cheaper than their home console counterparts as well as offering a mid-range set of products.
Software – This is the much debated fact of the DS success story. “Non-game” titles such as Nintendogs, Brain Age and the like have a wide appeal that the market in Japan was, apparently, hungry for. Luckily these titles are also not so expensive to develop, so we see more and more of them every day. Sure, some of them are rubbish, shovelware, but they still make money, creating a library so huge there is plenty of choice for your average gamer – which is something which I believed helped make the PS2 so popular.
Design – The DS Lite, as opposed to the original one, is sleek, slim and cute. There are a variety of colours and special editions and on more than one occasion have I witnessed home-made modded cases. In a fashion-hungry country like Japan design is a big deal, and the DS is sleek and stylish enough to be appreciated.

But where can it go from here? To be honest, for a while yet Nintendo won’t have to go anywhere. They rule the handheld market and could continue to do so for the foreseeable future, without price drops, redesigns or releasing a next-gen version. But we all like to pontificate on these matters, and we all have our wish-lists, so here are some of the considerations I have come up with.

It has already been rumoured a DS Lite 1.5 is in the works with, allegedly, slightly larger screens. This could be achieved without a price hike but wouldn’t add that much value to the console; the screens are large enough as it is, larger would just be greedy. But my aching eyeballs would certainly welcome this.

Multi-touch screen
One of the cool things of the iPhone and iPod Touch is the multi-touch screen interface. Instead of registering one point of contact it can detect multiple, creating a whole new level of interaction. Bu this won’t happen. The price of the technology would probably push the DS Lite into “luxury” commodity, rather than affordable gadget. Also, it would certainly create some new genres of games but wouldn’t specifically help the current crop of titles out there.

A small internal hard-disk would allow players to keep downloaded demos on their DS even after turning it off. Hard-disk space is fairly cheap these days and wouldn’t probably make the console prohibitively expensive. A memory card slot would probably be impossible, knowing Nintendo’s mortal fear of piracy and user controlled content, unless they go proprietary, but the benefits would probably not outweigh the cost. Besides, do we need another format on the market? But with an internal hard-disk, we could have….

Digital Distribution
…downloadable games, like WiiWare and Xbox Live Arcade. This though is extremely unlikely to happen for the DS. Part of Nintendo’s Midas-rivalling wealth lies in licensing the hardware, the production costs of the DS carts. To cut that out of their business plan would be punishing. Of course, there could be a two tier system with small games available for download but bigger titles remaining cart-based, but that would still leave problems of transactions and credit card purchasing systems to be implemented on the DS.

WiFi Internet
Which leads us on to connectivity. Wouldn’t it be nice if the DS was fully WiFi connected to the internet at all times? Open up your DS email application and check your mail while you’re on the train. Organise your agenda and upload it to your computer at home. These things can all be done with PDAs and Pocket PCs but those are much more expensive than this little toy. If Nintendo dare move into this market, it would mean a big blow for pocket organizer companies, especially considering the current DS user install base. This, though, is again very unlikely to happen, as Nintendo won’t be able to control the data being transferred, which may include sensitive and copyrighted software or family-friendly image breaking pornography. It certainly would if I got my hands on it, is all I’m saying.

Built in TV
The TV tuner peripheral has proven to be a bit of a success in Japan. Judging by the numerous new mobile phones being released these days it would seem the Japanese market wants their TV with them at all times. One has to wonder why. Is it really important to watch panel shows of talentos tasting various types of ramen while you're on the train? Either way, a DS with a built-in TV tuner would probably make it too expensive so it’s unlikely to happen. Better keep it as a purchasable extra for those interested rather than foist it on all of us.

Built in camera
If connectivity is improved, a tiny built-in camera would be an excellent addition. There is already a microphone, so a small, low-resolution video device above, say, the top screen would allow for a real pictochat, in real time. It’s a little gimmicky, but it could be fun, and may even be used to add your photo into multiplayer games, like how Super Mario Kart in the arcades had funnily modified photos of the players hovering above their cars on the tracks.

Wii connectivity
One thing I miss from the GBA days is being able to play them on my television via the Gamecube Advance Player. Due to the DS’s control mechanics it’s extremely unlikely to ever happen with this console. And as he utter failure of the Gamecube’s few games that used GBA connectivity shows us, it’s probably not worth the effort to implement it in this generation. The recent Wii Channel that lets you temporarily download DS demos is probably as far as it’s likely to go, but some kind of video-out so I can play DS games on my television would be cool.

There are already some titles that contain a few books on a DS cart. You hold the DS book-style and use the stylus to flip through pages. It works great, despite the small screen, something which is better in Japanese than English, I think. But how cool would it be if Nintendo started charging less for cart manufacturing and allowed for books to be cheaply sold as DS software? Once the software has been developed it’s merely a matter of changing the textual content, and if you release a single book on a cart for, say, little under a 1000 Yen, I’m sure the whole eBook market would react positively.

The DS has a long life ahead of it yet. I find this amusing as I distinctly remember the E3 where it was revealed and noticed the arrogant snorts of attendees who called it “gimmicky” and prophesized it would be killed by the PSP. And though it has had a shaky start, it is now the undisputed emperor of the Japanese market. And Nintendo would probably be foolish to muck up the strategies too much by changing the console too far beyond what it is now. I doubt any of the above will actually be implemented, save for the bigger screens, as they really don’t need to do anything to continue the sales trends, for now. But still, it’s nice to dream about these things occasionally.


  1. I'll admit, I would much rather buy ebooks for my DS than, say, buy the Kindle. In fact, I know I won't buy a Kindle, but if they started selling DS-format ebooks as downloads or carts I would be tempted to pick up a few.

  2. The idea of e-books on the DS would be huge. I've heard of people already using their DS as a reference tool (for translating Japanese I believe it was). Would battery life shorten that experience? All they would need is that distribution network.

    Personally I'd like to see some kind of dedicated RSS feed reader. A cart with a small slice of memory that I could download my feeds to when I have an Internet connection, say in the morning, and take with me to read as I travel. Share articles over a local link, that kind of thing.

    An upgrade of the wireless protocol from b to at least g would be a good idea too.

  3. I love the DS. And I was one of those that sneered at it back in the day.

    The touch screen is what sold me on it. I needed to replace my Japanese dictionary, and a DS + dictionary cart was still cheaper, AND let me draw kanji to look up.


    And then I discovered DS homebrew.

    You can now buy flashcarts to read microSDHC media up to 8 gigs. That's enough space for a lot of stuff.

    There are video players, music players (there is a program that emulates an ipod, which I used as my main music player for a year), ebook readers (more and more of these all the time, still no winner yet). I've read entire books on the DS, books I could have read on the computer (bigger screen), but the DS is so convenient. I always have it with me.

    Waiting to have your tires changed? DS. Waiting for the dentist? DS. Waiting in line at the store? DS. It's easy to pick up and easy to put down.

    I, too, would like to see an upgrade to g. I used to use my DS as a joystick for playing old-skool games on my computer, but the router here is g only.

  4. Hey there,

    Long time reader, first time poster here.

    One fairly obvious thing you forgot which would be a big improvement to the DS - as it would make our lives as game designers so much simpler is:

    - a touchable top screen!

    (please, please, please Nintendo make it so...)

  5. HDD

    The Wii already supports SD cards and you can store all your Virtual Console games there so Nintendo has already shown they are willing to do this.

    A DS that took SD cards and DSWare online marketplace seems like a natural to me. (of course this is one of those areas where Sony dropped the ball with PSP. They could have introdued the virtual console idea there at launch but didn't)

  6. I guess it's possible. At least with the Wii there is the security of 24Online and firmware updates to combat piracy and misuse. The DS would have to do something similar. One reason Nintendo are cracking down on those 3rd party flashcarts *could* be because they're working on something themselves, but maybe it isn't.

    The problem with 2 screen touch, as well as any real increase in processing power is that that would mean a real DS 2, as you'll get confusion about titles needing the 1.5 to run or v.1 or developers have to make sure they work on all iterations of the DS - nightmare!
    Would be cool, though, I agree.

  7. Here's what I can't help but wonder, DSwise.

    Nintendo's handhelds have always been miniaturized versions of their older consoles, albeit with larger storage media and years of experience in shortcuts and tricks.

    The Game Boy was (for all intents and purposes) a souped-up Game And Watch.
    The Game Boy Color was a handheld NES.
    The GBA/SP/Micro was a handheld SNES.
    The DS is a handheld N64. (Seriously, look at some of the older launch-window titles like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.)

    I'm sure the DS will carry the Big N for another few years, but what will their next system be? Another single-screen Game Boy? The DS II? Either way, it's gonna have to be as powerful as a Gamecube to keep up.

  8. I don't thik Nintendo is about the power. This post was mostly about the DS but whatever the GameBoy 3 will turn out to be, I doubt it'll be a straight power-up of what came before.
    GB3 might, hopefully, revolve around multi-touch input, with as much power as is commercially viable at that time, just to keep it affordable. Will it have two screens? I don't know. Some kind of built-in motion sensors may be included, I don't know. But it will revolve around input and control rather than processing power.
    Is what I *think*, or *recon*, but obviously I am as clueless to the facts as anyone else.

  9. Don't get me wrong; I like the DS (I'm "in between systems" right now, let's say, but I have all my games). It just seems that when it comes to handhelds, Nintendo reinvents their older technology. The Gamecube is the next thing; if they don't emulate it, they'll have to build a new handheld from the ground up.

    As for the DS, I wish the West wasn't so resistant to the advances it's had in Japan (probably because handheld games are still seen as toys, not tools). I wouldn't buy books on cart, but the web browser was a good idea that got buried in Blackberries and cellulars and the like; you can't even find that in stores any more.

  10. you can read ebooks on your ds for like 1 and half years now (or whenever the first flashcarts came out)

    but i can see this being a hit when officially done and supported, considering all the "non-gamers" (man, how i hate this caterogies) that own ds.


  11. Most of this is either wishful thinking or down-right absurd. Lets come up with a realistic list.

    DSLite 1.5:
    - Smaller/thinner (ala GB Micro)
    - Analog control (I'd love it, but I doubt it)
    - 802.11g/WPA (easy, but not probable)
    - More Wii Connectivity (definitely)
    - More RAM (not likely)
    - Better speakers/sound (not likely)
    - MP3/video support (not likely)

    DS 2.0
    - Faster CPU/More Memory
    - Bigger Screens (wide screen)
    - Dual touch screens
    - MultiTouch
    - 2gb/4gb carts
    - VC Downloads
    - Wii-like Desktop
    - 802.11g/WPA(outdated by then)

  12. the Game Boy video player and it's successors from let you use the DS as an ebook reader. I got my original GB player over a year ago for $24.00 from liksang before they closed up shop. it looks like they are out of stock now and only have the more expensive (and superior) micro version that fits flush into the DS lite.

    the last 10 books i read were on my DS. it doesn't look as good as a kindle or a sony reader, but it's very usable and it allows you to pick up and read a few pages anytime when you have to wait in a line,ride a bus, etc.

    i can't believe nintendo has failed to realize the DS' potential as a PDA. it's not even a question of development costs. There is zero development involved in creating an ebook reader,for instance. it already exists, and was probably one of the first demo tests they wrote for the platform during development. one can only guess their reasons for failing to let us do what we want with our hardware. luckily, third parties have filled in the gap.

  13. and as for my wish list:

    - ethernet port

    - (i use the ethernet adaptor on my wii, rather than wireless, and it is SO much faster and more reliable. downloads happen in a snap. i know the DS is meant as portable, but it would be a great feature.

    - SD memory card slot.

    - touch surface on back of unti, so that you can have multi-touch typing and interaction with your hands while holding the unit, without having to use a stylus or change position. apple has a patent for something similar. hard to explain, but basically, there's a touch surface on the back where your fingers rest and you can see a faint outline on the front screen showing you where your fingertips are for visual feedback.

    - pda capabilities such as email, IM chat, VOIP, text editing, etc.

    - usb port allowing third party peripherals such as pda keyboards.

    - better sound chips and a good sequencing program to make the DS into an underground music composition and performance tool for a wider audience than just the hackers who do it now.

    - built in camera, like on the apple macbooks.

    - more ram

  14. I've only just noticed you're back in business. I was an avid reader of your blog before you went fishing...happy to see you back.

    Keep those posts coming!

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