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The 3DS, the iPad, and the Future of Gaming

Nintendo launched its 3DS mobile gaming console in the U.S. on Sunday. While the device didn’t result in the kinds of mass stock outages and lines that the iPad 2 generated, it did pretty well by most accounts. Nintendo claimed record preorders for the device and forecast shipments of 4 million units through Mar.31. Recent analyst predictions estimate that this week’s 3DS sales will easily exceed those in the DS’s first week in 2004. Despite its success, the company will never be able to take back the foothold Apple has gained in the gaming market.

The reason? As game developer Olly Farshi so aptly put it when we were discussing the 3DS’s merits, iOS is a platform and the 3DS is a toy. Toys are more likely to bore us eventually, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their place. It may seem a dismissive way to characterize a technically impressive new device that successfully brings a 3D experience to the palm of your hand, but it’s exactly how prospective customers will think about the two when weighing a purchase decision.

That doesn’t mean Nintendo will lose out in every case. Some users are genuinely looking for a toy, not a platform. A mother, for example, might not want her children to have access (even restricted access) to a robust app ecosystem limited only by the decisions of developers who program for it and by the policies guiding Apple’s app review process. Parents may also be reluctant to hand over expensive and still quite-fragile pieces of electronic equipment to children; that’s what the iPhone and iPad are, notwithstanding competitive price points for their respective markets. Even the iPod touch—while more affordable than the 3DS, depending on your storage option—can’t really be described as a “toy” with regard to its construction or design.

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