Parallax Dreams • Page 2

It's not just the 3D bit that's odd about the 3DS - the announcement timing is also curious.

Does that seem like a double act that's likely to be followed with a new handheld system based on a largely untested display technology which is currently available only in one laptop, one camera and a couple of Japan-only mobile phones?

Does it seem likely that everything Nintendo has learned about the value of solid, old technology which works reliably and provides easy, universal access to a wide audience would be thrown away in favour of a 3D solution that - although vastly improved on past glasses-free technology - still requires the user to keep their face at a specific angle and distance from the screen, and risks causing eyestrain and headaches?

That's not to say that it's impossible that Nintendo has caught the 3D bug, much as many media companies around the world seem to have in the past year. The company may have seen new versions of the parallax barrier technology which solve the existing problems, and grasped this as an opportunity too good to miss, even if it means abandoning its former model for technological development. These things are possible. They're just unlikely. We won't know for sure until E3, but it would be best not to treat parallax barrier like a done deal.

Returning briefly to the question of the press release itself, a further question raises its head - why announce the 3DS now?

Why couldn't the firm wait until E3 and surprise us all? Could it be that some section of the media had found out about the system, and were preparing to spoil the surprise - so Nintendo decided to pre-empt them? Perhaps it's a PR gamble in itself, designed to create speculation and hype over the coming months - essentially trying to cut off a slice of Apple pie, having seen the fever pitch of speculation which attended the unveiling of the iPad?

Or does it have something to do with the iPad itself? The news was announced less then two weeks before Apple's tablet system, already creating huge excitement in the game development community, finally reaches users' hands.

It's hard to imagine that very many people will buy iPads purely for games, but the immense success of games on the App Store implies that games will be a consideration, at least, for many of the system's purchasers. Is this Nintendo's way of saying, hang on - we've got something even more exciting in the works?

Before scoffing that it seems unlikely that Nintendo would regard the launch of the iPad with apprehension, consider this. Statistics widely circulated this week suggest that in terms of US game software sales, in the past year the iPhone has leapfrogged the PSP to become Nintendo's number one rival in the handheld device space.

Its growth has come at the expense of both Nintendo and Sony, each of which has lost market share as the iPhone has grown. iPhone OS devices now make up 20 per cent of handheld game software revenue, and while the DS' share is still a massive 70 per cent, that's down from 75 per cent last year. Assuming the iPad is a success (it's already enjoyed more pre-orders than the iPhone did at launch, according to some sources), those figures could be even more stark next year.

The timing of Nintendo's announcement, in other words, couldn't be more prescient. Few people will put off a planned iPad purchase on the hope of an amazing 3D Nintendo console later in the year, but in the face of Apple's big day, a little heated speculation and hype can't hurt. This isn't the kind of PR game that Nintendo is used to playing, but the company knows that its new rival is the unrivalled king of hype, speculation and marketing muscle.

Whatever technology the 3DS eventually ends up using, the timing of this curious press release suggests that Nintendo knows perfectly well what the device's biggest challenge will be.

For more views on the industry and to keep up to date with news relevant to the games business, read our sister website GamesIndustry.biz, where you can read this weekly editorial column as soon as it is posted.

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