Why Apple App Store Will Force Nintendo’s Hand With a New DS

I just got finished reading Kotaku’s rather exhaustive list of the new iPhone games set to drop with the release of App Store, and I was left with one undeniable conclusion: Nintendo needs to update, upgrade or plain redesign the Nintendo DS, and soon.

First and foremost, the accelerometer is as revolutionary for the iPhone and mobile gaming as the Wiimote was for the Wii and consoles. Simple puzzle games like Trism, which was inspired by mobile phones staples like Bejewled, shows how powerful platform the iPhone will become. Just watch the video below, and you’ll see how Trism transforms a simple puzzler like Bejeweled into an entirely new game that’s just as simple and approachable as the original.

Next there’s games we’ve already heard about, like Super Monkey Ball, that have been around for some time, but not on a platform like the iPhone. This title once again leverages the accelerometer (I’m sensing a theme developing here, aren’t you?), and couples it with a $10 bare bones price tag (some people might argue that’s what Monkey Ball should have cost in the first place). Oh, and the graphics aren’t that bad, either. As Blake would say, they’re good enough, especially for a short burst on the subway, and I’d agree.

At $6, 3D touch-based pinball simulator Zen Pinball Rollercoaster is apparently another steal, with Kotaku saying, This single-table pinball sim is amazing. The amount of sound, action and graphics they managed to pack into Zen Pinball simply blows me away.” Finally, Motion X Poker ($5) is mind-numbingly simple, but to see it in action is amazing. Using real physics that simulate dice, the software has you shake the iPhone to “roll the dice” around the screen. It’s simple, but you really have to see in action for yourself.

Now, I’m not saying the App Store will blow Nintendo’s crown jewel away, but the foundation is definitely there. Accelerometers are nothing new, in any area of tech, but sometimes simply having the tech in your hardware isn’t enough. Case in point, what the Wii has done to console gaming using off-the-shelf parts. I see the same dynamic happening with the iPhone. Accerometer+mobile phone !=success 100% of the time, but if you pair it up with, say, an incredibly easy-to-use app delivery system (that pays its developers a 70% cut!), well, you might have a serious contender for the first time ever. Who knows, with 1/3 of all App Store software being given away for $0, the next great mobile game could very well be freeware.

Nintendo has plenty of bank right now with the DS, and it’s not even close to doomsday scenario time, regardless of what some lame-brained analyst says tomorrow or at E3. That said, I think this is the perfect opportunity for Nintendo to take a page from its own book and disrupt the handheld market, just like it did in 2004/2005 with the DS Phat. In effect, Nintendo will need to disrupt its own market, just as many subscribers to the Blue Ocean strategy have predicted will happen, eventually, with the Wii.

At E3 or sometime soon, Nintendo needs to update the DS with new hardware. An add-on simply wouldn’t do, because the Wii Fit Balance Board aside, peripherals never achieve anything close to 100% penetration with the installed user base.

A final point is price. I realize it’s a 2-year contract subsidy that’s doing it, but nevertheless that $200 price point is going to convert a lot of people to the House that Steve Jobs (and the Woz) built. And since App Store is so tightly integrated with iTunes, they’re going to have an incredibly easy time finding those apps, seeing their low price points, and downloading them. Nintendo has no comparable system, but it does have clout as the most popular video game’no, make that interactive entertainment’company in the world. They could easily combine the sizable clout they have with third parties on the DS with some new hardware variations and stay safe and sound during this iPhone storm. Multitouch? Widescreen? Motion controls? Stronger online presence? We’ll see if they do, or not.

I’ll leave you with Rolando, which is what would have happened if Kirby Canvas Curse and Loco Roco made it. Agree or disagree with me in the comments, won’t you?

PS – I still think they should call it “Game Boy.”