Nintendo has unveiled the 2DS. The console is essentially a cheap version of the 3DS, lacking the 3D capabilities and the hinge. From a design perspective, it’s not the prettiest device in the world (the screen alignment is particularly grim), and the clamshell was one of the best things about the DS hardware, protecting the screen and also making it more portable. By contrast, the 2DS looks unwieldy.

That said, I find it curious people are using the 2DS as some kind of proof Nintendo is doomed. Apple pundit John Gruber said on his blog:

It’s $129. I say they should just give in and start making iOS games. They’re not going to win this battle.

This is a nonsensical argument, especially from someone who has a habit of publicly slamming people who’d say anything remotely similar about Apple. I might think the 2DS is ugly and might not be that nice to hold, but that doesn’t make it a dumb idea. It’s cheap and very obviously positioned for holiday sales. It’s $100 cheaper than the cheapest iPod touch (i.e. about half the price), which immediately places it in a totally different market. And it’s pretty clearly a stop-gap—Nintendo doing its usual thing of wringing out the last drops of income from a hardware line before a refresh. We saw the same thing with the Game Boy Advance—although I’d argue the Micro was a smarter-looking device than the 2DS.

After presumably getting some stick online, Gruber elaborated further:

“Isn’t this like telling Apple to give up on hardware and license Mac OS to other PC makers?” numerous readers have asked. Maybe a little, but it’s a bad comparison. The main thing is it never seemed to me — never — that Apple was incapable of producing excellent industry-leading hardware. They just needed focus and better execution. Nintendo, to me, looks incapable of producing handheld hardware that can compete with the iPhone or iPod Touch.

The question is whether Nintendo wants to compete and whether it needs to. Anecdotally, I hear an awful lot of people telling me their kids no longer bother with Nintendo hardware, and instead use iOS devices; similarly, many teen and adult gamers have ditched Nintendo handhelds for smartphones and tablets. Also, Nintendo’s financials of late haven’t looked nearly as rosy as in the past. Still, I also hear from various parties that the 3DS line has sold very well, and that Nintendo is starting to get the message regarding working with indies and pricing games more sensibly. Last year, I figured that rather than leap to iOS, Nintendo really needed to place more emphasis on digital, embrace more devs, and link with the wider world; I still believe that.

Gruber instead made a more common argument for what Nintendo should do:

I think they’re out of the game and might never get back into it. If they can do it, great — where by “do it” I mean produce a device that’s a better buy for $250 or so than an iPod Touch. But I don’t think they can do it. And if they can’t do it, their next best bet is is to expand to making iOS games. I’m not saying drop the DS line and jump to iOS in one fell swoop. But a couple of $9.99 iPhone/iPad games to test the water wouldn’t hurt.

There’s certainly a possibility that with the new iOS games controller APIs, Nintendo could create a custom controller for iOS, giving relevant iOS Nintendo titles the precision that they’d need to not end up being somewhat unplayable on the platform. I still question this as anything but an absolute last resort. For some reason, Gruber either ignores or dismisses that Nintendo is the Apple of the gaming world—it has succeeded through controlling everything, not just through the games it creates. To say Nintendo should create games for iOS is little different from suggesting a less fortunate Apple should rapidly get iLife and iWork on to other platforms. Even testing the water would be an admission of failure, which would damage the brand.

Perhaps Nintendo’s long-term future is as another Sega, crafting games for hardware that it doesn’t make itself. But the 2DS certainly doesn’t make the case this should happen now. Really, it’s what happens next that will seal Nintendo’s fate. What follows the DS line and the Wii U will be critical for the company, and although plenty (including, at times, me) have largely written off the company, Nintendo has also shown in the past how it has the ability to create something new and innovative seemingly from nowhere, thereby securing its survival and success. This sounds rather like a certain other tech company, and is why certain pundits should know better than to entirely dismiss Nintendo’s future chances.


Further reading: Nintendo, by Lukas Mathis.