Why Nintendo’s Next Major Console Will Be A Smartphone

A lot of hash was made last week out of Nintendo’s revelation that they had five mobile games planned. But left out of that story was a larger question… how long will it be before Nintendo starts making a smartphone? Because it’s inevitable, both due to the demands of the market and how Nintendo sees itself.

Nintendo Invented, And Dominates, Mobile Gaming

It’s easy to forget that until about 2007, if you were playing games on the go, you were playing games and hardware more or less dictated by Nintendo. The Game Boy remains one of the single most popular video game systems ever invented, and one of Nintendo’s most successful products. Similarly, in an age where everybody has a gaming system in their pocket, Nintendo has moved millions upon millions of portable gaming systems, to the point where their portable consoles are more or less their most successful products.

They’re Already Essentially Building Phones

The idea of Nintendo making a smartphone would sound absolutely ridiculous if, uh, they weren’t essentially already making one. Literally the only thing missing from the 3DS to become a mobile device is a 4G radio, a SIM card of some sort, and some software. Admittedly, it’d be a phone unlike any other phone on the market, but it’s still a phone. So, Nintendo has what most companies don’t, a strong manufacturing base in electronics, right off the bat.

Nintendo Builds Hardware

If you’re a Nintendo watcher, one thing you learn very quickly is that Nintendo views itself as a toy company, a creator of things you touch and play with, and that extends to their hardware. You also learn that Nintendo, as a consequence, hates having its hardware out of its control. There’s an institutional need to have their software on hardware they’ve built from the ground up. Nintendo loves this “closed architecture” style, and realistically, this dip in the mobile market is to learn what they like about mobile gaming, what they don’t like, and what they’re going to fix.

Mobile Gaming Is The Future In Japan

If you pay attention to sales figures in Japan, the future of gaming in that country is mobile. Period. The only consoles that matter are portable. Mobile games shell out for enormous campaigns to get Japanese fingers swiping their characters. And Nintendo, in addition to viewing itself as a toy company, is very much a company that takes pride in being Japanese. Japan is the market that matters most to them, and it will go where its customers are heading.

Nintendo Is One Of The Most Trusted Brands On The Planet

Finally, there’s simply the fact that Nintendo has an almost ridiculously deep reach as a media company. Their corporate mascot is one of the single most recognizable characters in the world. They own one of the single most popular media franchises ever conceived. Everybody under the age of 40 fondly remembers at least one Nintendo product or a game they own.

Realistically, if Nintendo puts out a smartphone, and it’s the only way to play the new Pokemon game? It sells millions of units right off the bat. Similarly, Nintendo is able to leverage its family-friendly reputation; part of the reason the 3DS is so popular is that you can give it to a kid and be fairly sure he’s as safe as you can be with a device connected to the Internet.

It’s unlikely that Nintendo will go mobile completely; the company still does well across the board. But in part due to changing markets, and in part due to how they see themselves, don’t be surprised if the Nintendophone arrives sooner than you think.