Nintendo’s next gen “console” will be strangely portable

Congrats, Blake. You inspired me this morning with your impromptu poll about Nintendo’s next console and when it might arrive.

I took the poll, but here’s my guess, fleshed out all hyperbole and speculation-like: The next Nintendo console could arrive in late 2010, but an early 2011 arrival is more likely. It will be called the 3DS.

It Must Surprise Them

The linchpin here, as it always has been with Nintendo, is that any new hardware must “surprise” audiences.

True, Iwata and Miyamoto say the word “surprise” in their interviews about as often as a teenage Xbox Live user uses a homophobic slur (i.e. a lot), but if you look at their history, the usage really does mean something with them.

Rumble, motion controls, IR pointers for menu navigation, retro revivals of the highest caliber, directional pads in an era when joysticks were considered the manlier option, the original Wii Sports—all these are moves that genuinely surprised audiences and translated into incredible sales, long lines and a frothing, near-rabid press corps.

Simply tacking on a motion-sensing, augmented reality camera and HD to their next console would do none of these things. It would be inherently un-present day Nintendo-like behavior. It would be the real GameCube 2.0. It would fail.

But let’s revisit what I just said above: long lines, enthusiastic press reception; Arthur C. Clarke technology that requires no glasses and is nigh imperceptible from magic; disrupts the still developing 3D landscape; takes gaming in a direction no one was expecting; genuinely surprises those who play it. Hell, there’s even a fracking countdown clock.

All this and more has been attributed to the 3DS over the past few months. Not the Wii. Not some rumored next gen console being hammered together as a panicked response to competitors’ new motion control technology. Not some HD update that is never going to come. Not from the Move or Kinect, which have managed hardly more than a yawn from consumers, if the latest spending surveys are to be believed. Nope. All this was for the diminutive 3DS.

And really, how could Nintendo seriously surprise the world with another console, without appearing to copy the bulbous, augmented reality-boosting PlayStation Move or arm-flappingly expensive Kinect? In the console space, at the moment, there simply isn’t any technology available that would truly surprise anyone.

So, what then? What’s next?

I ask that, and I keep coming back to the 3DS. This is Nintendo’s next true “console” and it will be the one that receives the bulk of their attention for at least the next three years (starting in 2011).

You want to truly disrupt? You really want to zig while the competition zags battles it out for the scraps of the motion control heap that you created?

If you’re Nintendo, the truly disruptive option in this scenario is to “leave” the console space and focus on the new “portable, glasses-free 3D gaming experience” you single-handedly just created at E3. This isn’t to say Nintendo simply deletes the Wii from its database, which would be idiotic to do or, as an observer, to speculate Nintendo would do.

No, the Wii will continue on, priced to sell and supported by first party titles that would not do well on a portable system (even one so powerfully spec’d as the 3DS). There will probably be new colors, new bundles, a fully integrated MotionPlus Wiimote, and maybe a price cut down the road. It would be just as the DS had done when the Wii launched in 2006, only reversed.

Why, maybe Nintendo will even start to get serious about the oft-neglected Wii-to-DS connectivity we once heard so much about. Wouldn’t that be something?

Dual screen deja vu

Now, to an extent this dynamic already exists. The DS platform is one of the most successful, well-supported pieces of video game hardware ever created. Its install base is larger than the Wii, and Nintendo’s portable brand is, in ever sense of the word, unstoppable. Challengers with more powerful hardware and more initial developer support lie in its wake like discarded toys. Dominance is assured, and the long lines and launch title speculation for the 3DS all but guarantee it will continue at least into the mid-2010’s. The nearest competitor is an already irrelevant, still vaporware PSP phone, and those big, fluffy red meat numbers about iPods and iOS devices that Apple loves to use to incite the fanboys are just that—red meat and fluff.

From the early days of the Wii (Née Revolution), Nintendo has been incredibly open about its plans for disruption. Low cost consoles, less powerful processors, blue oceans and all that—all of these things are open secrets, with disrupting and “saving” the industry being chief amongst them the entire time. What Nintendo said it would do in press conferences back in 2005 and 2006 have literally come to pass. They are not interested in competing with Sony and Microsoft in the gaming space, they are interested in disrupting and burying them.

And, really, what would be more disruptive to the console space than the market leader leaving it altogether to focus entirely on powerful, 3D, hyper-connected portables?

Get ready for it: Nintendo’s next gen console is the 3DS, and it arrives in 2011 for $189.