How Nintendo just “out-Appled” Apple

Out of the gate, I should say I realize that comparing Nintendo and Apple is odd. One is a gaming company, the other a general purpose computing and software company. What’s more, while Apple recently introduced a software upgrade, Nintendo announced new hardware in the form of the Wii U. So what possible good could come from contrasting their recent actions?

But here’s the thing: in their recent announcements, Apple, who are usually the ones to popularize new ways of using tech, simply introduced a mild upgrade, borrowing from other companies, when they could have introduced a revolution. Meanwhile, Nintendo, who could have simply given us an upgraded Wii, instead used the introduction of the Wii U to fundamentally alter living room entertainment. So it’s almost as if, at least in this past week, it is Nintendo who have been the innovators and Apple merely the workaday tech company.

Here’s why that matters.

How Apple swung and missed

For iPhone, iPad and iPod users, iOS 5 looks to improve a lot. The improved notifications, iMessage and (obviously) cloud music service is a big deal.

Yet at the same time, the updates largely update iOS to include features that other platforms have. Even iCloud seemed to be a bit of a dud: it essentially seems like Dropbox for music, which isn’t exactly revolutionary. As I’ve argued before, what would have been revolutionary would have been a truly cloud approach to music that embraced abundance, instead of simply moving your existing service into a digital locker.

When Apple announced the iPhone in 2007, half the world went nuts. But the real revolutionary potential of the iPhone and iOS came the year after, when Apple announced the App Store. It was at that point the mix of a touch screen, mobile broadband and a e-store for applications combined to transform the iPhone from merely smartphone to a platform. By providing innumerable ways for software makers to implement different aspects of the hardware, Apple made their platform the one to beat.

That kind of paradigm-shifting thinking was lacking in Apple’s announcements this year. Instead, as many have commented, what these upgrades are about is locking users into Apple’s universe.

How Nintendo understands the future better

So instead of opening up a new universe of cloud options, Apple chose to lock you in to a rather simple set of services. Yet, the sense of possibility that was encapsulated by the iPhone is actually far better articulated by Wii U.

That multi-functionality, in terms of both purpose and demographics is what Nintendo has gotten so right with Wii U’s dual screen system.

I’d argue that Nintendo have shown enormous foresight in combining two important pairs:

  1. first, the multidimensionality and accessibility of touch-screen/motion controls and the precision and functionality of traditional game controls;
  2. and second, they have mixed the personalized, individual experience of modern mobile tech and small screens with the social need for a shared living room experience on a big screen.

This is something that Apple, Microsoft and Sony have all thus far failed to achieve. Sony might have Move’s precision and accessibility, but they have no comprehensive vision for software. Microsoft has the ease of Kinect, but no deep experiences. Apple has announced that Airplay now works for games, but it’s only one person at a time, and many games are constrained by the simplicity of touch screen controls. No-one has been able to appeal to both casual gamers and advanced ones and at the same time mix the best of mobile and living room experiences. It looks like Nintendo just has.

With the Wii U, Nintendo have a chance of truly becoming that mythical box that everyone in the house uses. Its two-screen system prevents one or two people in a home from dominating the screen-time. It offers myriad new gameplay possibilities that will continue to make gaming more accessible to a broader audience. But importantly, the huge market for people who desire more complex interactive experiences will continue to grow because this box will offer an upgrade path for people who started with Wii Sports. On top of all that, the massive market for advanced games like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed will be met by this console.

There has been a lot of skepticism about the Wii U. For example, respected coder and blogger Andy Baio feels that Nintendo doesn’t get why Apple is taking market share from them. Silicon Alley Insider say the Wii U is a dud. And perhaps they’ re right.

But I’d argue that the Wii U hits all the right spots: powerful hardware, accessibility, innovation and uniqueness. And that combination will result in it becoming what the iPad or AppleTV cannot: a box that appeals to everyone, from the most casual gamer to the most dedicated.

By navneetalang

Navneet Alang is a technology-culture writer based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter at @navalang

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