Conventional wisdom says that Apple doesn’t “get” games. Steve Jobs never said that video games were a waste of time - but they were never a focus for him in his tenure at Apple. Consequently, the underpinnings of good drivers and developer support has always lagged on the Macintosh. There was never a clean package of APIs like Windows’ Direct X. Instead, Apple relied on outdated, sometimes buggy OpenGL support.
It would be wrong to say that Apple doesn’t get games on iOS - and perhaps this is the biggest sign that Apple has moved into the post-Jobs era. Great games are front and center and Apple has created hooks into core APIs allowing developers to create experiences that are richer than on any other mobile platform.
Any other platform, except perhaps for the Nintendo DS. Nintendo has been making successful handheld gaming machines since the 80s. Let that sink in. Nintendo was putting video games in the palm of your hand back when Tears for Fears were Sowing the Seeds of Love.
Since their arrival on the gaming scene, they’ve established characters as brands that most toddlers can identify on sight. But the one word that can be used to describe Nintendo since the 90s - that the’ve never been able to escape - is “niche”. Eclipsed by big competitors Sony and Microsoft in the console market - they are now also overshadowed by Apple and Android in the handheld market.
Their latest generation of hardware - the Wii U and the 3DS - have failed to impress. on the playground, the middleschoolers have iPod touches in their pockets - at home they have Xbox 360s or Playstation 3s. Although not out of the picture, Nintendo is on the ropes - already struggling at the beginning of a new product cycle - it would be several years until the successor to the stillborn Wii U could come to market.
It might be time for Nintendo to think different. The similarities in the company cultures of Nintendo and Apple are strong. John Gruber linked to this quote from Nintendo President Satoru Iwata:
“What I believe is that Nintendo is a very unique company, because it does its business by designing and introducing people to hardware and software - by integrating them, we can be unique. And because we have hardware and software developers in the same building, they stimulate each other.
Nintendo’s value of design in both hardware and software does indeed closely mirror the Apple ethos. Both Apple and Nintendo believe in creating great products - and then letting demand grow from that creation. I bet that Nintendo skips focus groups too.
Nintendo Japan has a market cap of around 1.3 trillion yen - or 13 billion US dollars. Apple has over 100 billion in cash overseas that it can’t bring into the US without paying a heavy tax penalty. For 13% of Apple’s international cash hoard, Apple could buy Nintendo and catapult into the living room console market.
Beyond bolting on instant gaming credibility - Nintendo brings its amazing character brands. Mario, Luigi, Zelda, Metroid and others. If a company like Apple doesn’t buy these - with Nintendo’s increasing decline - they will be ripe for the picking for a company like Disney - no stranger to buying companies for characters.
Update: In this interesting but strangely heated Reddit thread, a couple of points are made that I’d like to respond to:
- The 3DS is actually selling very well, and is currently the bestselling handheld on the market. Compared to what? the PS Vita? The 3DS is only selling well when you restrict the playing field to remove non-dedicated platforms like iOS. In Q1 Apple sold 75 million iOS devices - Nintendo sold 1.4 million.
- Real gamers don’t play with touch screens - Apple does not make gaming devices - One of the points of this post is that Nintendo could bring a lot to enhancing gaming on Apple devices. Imagine a “Gamer Edition” iPod touch with built in buttons and joypads. As pointed out in the thread, iOS7 brings wireless gaming controller capabilities - it’s not such a far leap to consider a device with proper gaming controls built in.