Nintendo Wii U: Launching in Apple's Shadow

Price and date for the Wii U launch are expected this week, but will Nintendo's press event be overshadowed by Apple?

Nintendo has a very important holiday season ahead of it with the launch of the Wii U, its next-generation console. Current console sales are lagging badly (August hardware sales in the US were 39 per cent lower than last year), and Nintendo's Wii is performing worst of all, as consumers anticipate the launch of the Wii U. After the lackluster launch of the 3DS, the industry is wondering if Nintendo's Wii U launch will be the success that so many are hoping for.

Nintendo has scheduled a major press event for September 13 in New York City, where it's anticipated it will reveal the launch date and pricing for the Wii U. On September 12, Apple is announcing the new iPhone in San Francisco. Rumors suggest Apple will introduce the iPad Mini (an iPad with a 7.85 inch screen) in October, which may be around the same price point as the Wii U.

Did Nintendo make a huge PR mistake by scheduling its event the day after Apple's? As you might expect, most PR professionals in the game industry prefer not to be named when talking about a major game manufacturer that's not their employer or their client. Some declined to to comment on the issue at all, but others provided some insight to GamesIndustry International about Nintendo's PR efforts.

"Nintendo has a bigger PR problem than the date of its press conference. The biggest issue Nintendo has is the lack of anticipation or confidence"

PR veteran

One PR veteran feels that Nintendo has more to worry about than this event. "My main thought is that Nintendo has a bigger PR problem than the date of its press conference. The biggest issue Nintendo has is the lack of anticipation or confidence. They have not created enough excitement and confidence among both consumers and developers, nor has their quiet given people the sense that a delightful surprise awaits. There seems to be a cloud hanging above them of 'concern.' They did not do a great job after E3 of bridging toward the fall. If they want this press conference to succeed, making people believe that there will be a surprise or prrof of a big flagship title may help. Highlighting their focus on third party or any other innovations would also help."

The veteran exec continued, "It seems that Nintendo does not think of Apple as a true competitor, and they seem to be relying on the fact that their intense focus and disregard of the rest of the market will prevail again. It's interesting Nintendo is doing their press event in New York; that feels like a statement of appealing to the mainstream press, the mass market (as opposed to Silicon Valley or the game developers). But Apple is already mainstream and doesn't really need that, of course. It's possible Nintendo believes reporters who cover interactive, games and tech will simply cover both events, and since they don't seem to really think they are in the same business as Apple, they may be surprised."

The exec was clear about what Nintendo needs to do next: "From here on out they need to really close the gap, make a statement and gain consumer confidence for the retail launch."

Meelad Sadat, PR director at [a]list games, notes that the calendar doesn't have a lot of room for PR events at this time of year. "When it comes to organizing a big launch event you try to avoid conflicts, but eventually you have to pull the trigger. Here both products are coming out this fall for the holidays and there's key info still missing on both - with the Wii U, it's the price point. In about a month, press bandwidth is going to be eaten up with one holiday product push after another. So there's not much room to dilly dally."

The Wii U may be debuting the day after a new iPhone, but Sadat feels it may not be that much of problem. "This might be a case of different vibes for different tribes. The iPhone launch will surely get coverage on game sites, but at the end of the day it's a smartphone. It'll get launch coverage and a follow up piece or two to have its hardware dissected. With the Wii U, we're getting the first next gen console. I think with game press and for the people who religiously follow game news, they'll get their fill of Wii U coverage."

"Unfortunately Nintendo has introduced a piece of hardware that's only raised questions since it was announced"

Meelad Sadat

Sadat feels that Nintendo shouldn't change their timing as this point. "Whether this was an orchestrated showdown at high noon or a couple of gunslingers who bumped up against each other at the bar, neither should blink. That's my advice. Can you imagine the headlines? 'Apple's new iPhone sends Nintendo running for cover.' Maybe as a headline that needs an edit, but you get my point."

Nintendo's got some work to do to make the most of this press event, Sadat notes. "As for impact, unfortunately Nintendo's introduced a piece of hardware that's only raised questions since it was announced. There are questions around the system's capabilities compared to this generation, GamePad issues and how it might slow down game performance, and of course price point. The latter comes down to what it costs to take the system home with two controllers, whether that's a GamePad and Wiimote, and a game. If that's climbing towards $400-$500, look out. If I'm a hardcore gamer, do I spend that money or wait to see what powerhouse next-gen console Sony and Microsoft are planning?"

Sadat continued, "If I'm looking at making this the kids' best Christmas ever, is it with this pricey, cumbersome looking game console or an iPad (or even the iPad mini, which very well could be on deck for Apple's upcoming event)? Nintendo's event needs to be a wonderfully orchestrated, entertaining affair that answers troubling questions. I think I just talked myself into catching the live stream."

Scott Steinberg, head of business consulting firm TechSavvy, argues that Nintendo's event scheduling is not optimal, but that's not the whole story. "Few times are ever optimal in the fall/holiday corridor, but heightened media noise levels certainly won't help efforts here. Which is to say that going head-to-head with other firms, especially Apple - the 10-ton gorilla of the technology world - is always ill-advised. Timing here is unfortunate, and will almost certainly lead to dampened attendance and news pickup. However, actual traction is going to depend on just what information Nintendo has to reveal, and how emphatically it plans to go about promoting it. Don't underestimate interest in the new generation of consoles, though - while it may not receive as much media attention as it would have had conferencing timing been more spaced out, Nintendo's announcements will still be newsworthy, and should receive considerable pickup."

"During the event, it's quite simple - stick to steak and potatoes, but serve up a special surprise for dessert"

Scott Steinberg

Will Nintendo's Wii U PR get lost in the noise over a new iPhone launch? Steinberg thinks the answer is obvious. "That depends on just what Nintendo has to reveal. However, let's put it this way: should the world's best-known technology company choose to reveal a new edition of one of the globe's most-beloved technology products, it's safe to say that it will command the lion's share of ink, and front-page headlines."

Would moving the date of Nintendo's event still be a good idea even at this late point? What would be your advice? "As veteran publicists and meeting planners might reveal, moving dates and key events is often an extremely difficult proposition, even in the best of circumstances, and one few organizations would opt to voluntarily undertake. At this point, I'd counsel letting key information points leak a couple of days early to providing better spacing between announcements and capitalize on lulls in news coverage before the press catches Apple fever and public speculation hits its high. Saving a few surprises for the event will of course be necessary, but the vital information points - pricing, release date - should be communicated and publicized strategically before potential windows of opportunity tighten or shrink."

What would you advise Nintendo do during the event in order to get the most impact during an increasingly noisy time period? "During the event, it's quite simple - stick to steak and potatoes, but serve up a special surprise for dessert. Which is to say it's time to talk turkey: to grab the most media attention, it's time to address consumer and media's key questions, showcase standout titles and reveal a major unforeseen announcement or two that the company's been keeping up its sleeve. Simply announcing new features, development partners and retail info alone won't be enough: This close to launch, it's time to see just what the machine has to offer and why we all can't afford not to be queueing up to buy it on day one."

It's clear from previous statements by Nintendo's CEO Satoru Iwata that Nintendo doesn't perceive itself in competition with Apple, and so it seems logical that Nintendo wouldn't care at all when Apple might be scheduling a press event (the approximate date of Apple's event has been rumored since July). For Nintendo to change the date now, that would be admitting that Apple products and what Apple does might have an effect on Nintendo's business. Nintendo's pride will make it assume that the gaming media will cover the Wii U in detail, while Apple's products will only get a cursory mention.

That's probably true as far as the gaming media goes, but for the mass media, Apple's products are clearly more important. It is, after all, the most valuable company in the world. Analysts expect Apple's iPhones to sell in the range of 30 million units in the last three months of 2012, which is at least 10 times as many units as Nintendo will be selling of the Wii U in that time frame. The timing of the two events will certainly reduce Nintendo's coverage in mainstream press outlets, and Nintendo's PR team in the US has probably informed management of that, to no avail.

A recent example shows clearly how much (or how little) the Nintendo of America team can influence Nintendo headquarters. At Nintendo's E3 press event, Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime ended the show with a statement to the effect that the crowd would get one more walk through NintendoLand. Naturally, the assembled press expected perhaps something exciting or interesting, maybe a reveal of more NintendoLand gameplay. Instead, the big screen showing NintendoLand displayed a fireworks display inside of the software. People stared around in puzzlement, still expecting something interesting... then the fireworks ended, and everyone shuffled out, still wondering what was going on.

This made no sense unless you know that to most Japanese fireworks are something very special indeed, and they'll drop everything to pay attention to them. So from the Japanese perspective, a fireworks display would be a thrilling way to end a press event. Undoubtedly Nintendo of America would have said something to Nintendo Japan about this idea not meaning much to the US audience. Yet, the press event ended with the fireworks... showing just how much Nintendo allows Nintendo of America to influence events.

"Nintendo, the world will be watching... if they can tear themselves away from ordering their new iPhone, that is"

Ultimately even if Nintendo's press event is lackluster, they may still be able to orchestrate a strong launch performance. If the hardware (and whatever it comes with) is seen as a great value, success will follow. That value proposition will need some compelling software, though. As Bing Gordon noted, Shigeru Miyamoto has created software worth at least $200 or more - since people bought consoles just to play some of his software titles. Super Mario Bros. for the NES, Zelda: A Link to the Past for the SNES, or Super Mario 64 for the N64; those are all titles that sold hardware. So far, none of Nintendo's launch titles for the Wii U seem up to that level; we may have to wait months for those killer pieces of software (as we did with the 3DS).

It's worth remembering that Nintendo has well over $10 billion in the bank, plus billions more in hard assets. It can well afford several years of losing half a billion dollars or so. The damage caused by a lackluster launch would be more to the third-party developers, who certainly wouldn't want to wait to see significant sales from Wii U games. A slow start for the Wii U would mean less investment by third-party developers into Wii U games, which in turn would mean fewer reasons to buy a Wii U.

Nintendo has a lot riding on this press event, and the entire industry will be watching to see how much excitement Nintendo can generate over the Wii U. Microsoft and Sony will definitely be watching closely, judging just how much excitement Nintendo is creating, so they can determine what (if any) moves they may make in response. How will we know what Sony and Microsoft really think about the Wii U? Watch what they do over the next month. If we see price cuts on consoles or significant added value bundles, that's a sign that Sony or Microsoft feel they need extra help to sell hardware this holiday season.

As for Nintendo, time is growing short before the hardware hits the market. It will need to generate some saturation marketing to create awareness and build demand for the Wii U, along with some excitement in the media and compelling launch titles. The excitement generated by its press event will be a good indicator of how well the Wii U will sell this Christmas. Nintendo, the world will be watching... if they can tear themselves away from ordering their new iPhone, that is.

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Latest comments (30)

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 6 years ago
Don't Nintendo have a history of un hyped, fairly low key launches of new platforms? Then ramping up the marketing as boxes are shipped. They are a conservatively managed company and don't go for winding up the market in the way that Apple do. And Sony used to do.
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Daniel Hughes Studying PhD Literary Modernism, Bangor University6 years ago
"Nintendo's pride will make it assume that the gaming media will cover the Wii U in detail, while Apple's products will only get a cursory mention."

Given it's a new console from one of the hardware manufacturers, I'm sure Nintendo will get plenty of coverage in the games dedicated press. When it comes to the mass-market, the families that might pick up a Wii U, I'm sure Nintendo will be happy to wait until in-store advertisement (in the busiest shopping period of the year) and TV/broader online advertising kicks in.

Yes, Apple are huge and are a player in the games industry now, but that doesn't mean they automatically eclipse other companies. As much as the phrase 'lackluster launch' for 3DS is repeated, it's important to note the device is sitting at an install base of 20 million, and now selling at a profit--a fraction of the iDevices, sure, but an excellent start for a dedicated gaming system. It's not as if Nintendo need to ship a hundred million systems a year to be successful. It's not as if Nintendo need a wildly successful launch to stay in business or even to 'make' the Wii U. They've proven very recently they are now strong enough to recover a system from near disaster.

Nintendo will be absolutely fine during the launch window--it's the first 6 months of next year I'd be more worried about, because it was the months following the launch window that proved the stumbling block for 3DS. 3.6 million people were willing to buy an over-priced, under-featured system in the first month for 3DS, but that will cause questions about the near-future viability of the Wii U. What big post-launch games are there? Where are the 'real' Nintendo blockbusters and when will they arrive? Is the price so high as to mean there'll be a price-cut within months? Will third parties stick around? Are the online services going to be up to scratch? Will there be unified accounts from day one? Will the store be up with content from day one?

Nintendo can solve most of these problems at their press conference. Announce a reasonable price globally. Date all the games announced so far. Bundle Nintendo Land with the system, or even bundle Mario with the system as a limited time launch offering. Make a big deal that the system not only gets the biggest multi-format releases of this year (Assassin's Creed 3 and COD:BLOPS2) at launch, but it also has exclusive third party games--ZombieU, Rayman Legends, LEGO City Stories. Perhaps most importantly, announce or tease some 2013 games.

This is the area I think Nintendo will struggle with, because they won't see it as important at a launch event. It's understandable thinking; we want consumers to buy the device THIS Christmas to get off to a great start, why over-load them with info about next year's products? I'd argue in the face of 3DS's struggles, Nintendo need to prove to doubtful customers that more content is coming and it's coming soon. Not only that, but it's day and date versions of the latest third party games, and it's their own quality content as well. Metroid? Something new? Another retro revival? A third party collaboration? They need something, or several somethings, to excite the millions of hobbyist gamers who have to wait until E3 for solid information and reveals of other next-generation consoles.

I'm sure the main reason Wii U's initial Nintendo software is a little 'light' is because Nintendo are holding back to combat their traditional rivals next year. I'd advise they don't wait too long, and they strike while they have the chance. Tease some big 2013 games now, and have some out before E3. Have even 'bigger' stuff (3D Mario? Smash Brothers? Mario Kart?) waiting at E3 to come in the second half of next year. They'll sell whatever Wii Us they get onto shelves this year, because that's how console launches, particularly at Christmas, work. But they need to show that they have a steady stream of content coming into next year, before the rumour-mill of next-gen Sony/Microsoft systems kicks into over-time. They need to have games the press can cover and gamers can get excited about, so that the Wii U doesn't just seem like a good prospect at launch, but it seems like a good prospect stretching into 2013. That's a far bigger challenge than pulling off a successful Christmas launch, I think.
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Joo Namorado Project Manager, Portugal Telecom6 years ago
I believe the challenge for Nintendo is not so much the hype they can create but simply making consumers understand how the Wii U is a new experience in gaming. The Wii was easy: one look at a video of someone playing and you had to try it yourself. The 3DS was tricky, but most consumers already understood what 3D was so they could get away with telling people it was 3D without glasses. The Wii U, however, you really need to try it to understand the difference. I wasn't really excited about it until I actually got my hands on one and played with friends and colleagues.
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Show all comments (30)
I don't see it as an issue. Apple will probably launch 1-2 weeks after the conference - Nintendo has another 6-8 weeks (at least) before a launch.

And ultimately, the market/consumer is different. If Nintendo can show off some new WiiU games/footage, all the game sites and gamers will be all over it - regardless of Apple. A few seconds of the new (rumoured) Zelda WiiU project would do wonders :)
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"After the lackluster launch of the 3DS.."

Stopped reading at that point.
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Caleb Hale Journalist 6 years ago
I read the other day Nintendo will be launching the most ambitiously produced Legend of Zelda title ever made in 2014. That right there is enough to convince me to buy a Wii 2014.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 6 years ago
All they need to get right is the price. The software and IP are there.
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Tom Tapper6 years ago
The insistence of gaming journalist to line up a smart phone device and a home gaming console as direct competitors continues to baffle me. It is like they don't even talk to gamers before formulating these opinions while instead they simply tally up sales numbers and features and declare one more successful than the other. Who are these analysts and who listens to them? Every person walking the earth will sooner or later need to upgrade their mobiles so comparing sales numbers of the iPhone and something like the 3DS is asinine as best. Hobby gamers will never stop wanting to play big AAA experiences, especially on their big home televisions using a controller so comparing the iPhone and a home console is even more asinine.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tom Tapper on 10th September 2012 3:03pm

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.6 years ago
I can't even believe this question is being asked.

Not only is not Nintendo not in Apples shadow, they stand on their own island. Nintendo will do what Nintendo does and it's largely irrelevant what the competition does and even more irrelevant what a phone manufacturer does.

Those journalists and analysts with an interest in phones will look to and cover the Apple event. Those journalists and analysts with an interest in the video game industry will look to and cover the Nintendo event.
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Vlad Zotta Operations Director / COO, Netzah Game6 years ago
Of course Nintendo does not see Apple as a direct competitor and the Nintendo DS sales evolution over the years shows it, but that's entirely another topic. I think they rushed the conference since Tokyo Game Show is just around the corner and they intended to get some traction in the media with the Wii U just before other major gaming announcements are starting to occupy PR bandwith. Sadly, there's no mention of this in the article.
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Andy Samson QA Supervisor, Digital Media Exchange6 years ago
The question is, how big will that shadow be when cast in the realm of console gaming? The iPhone 5 to most "console gamers" have no significant impact, this is not handheld gaming, it's gaming in front of your huge HD TV screen surrounded by your home theater speakers.

The GamePad is an integral part of the Wii U but it's first and foremost a controller, not a tablet PC or mobile device. There is only so much you can announce about the hardware and Nintendo is not resting their laurels on revealing undisclosed tech wizardry but will most likely announce games and collaborations we haven't heard of or just waiting for them to officially confirm their existence and show solid proof they have them for the system.

Apple needs to worry about making the iPhone 5 more competitive with SAMSUNG's S3 because right now the Koreans are taking a huge bite out of their fruit. The lawsuit created so much negative publicity and a lot of people actually lost interest in owning apple products. If the leaks that are going around about the iPhone 5 hardware and features are accurate it sounds lackluster to me and they have this history of releasing buggy handsets at launch.
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There's also the unveil of the new Falcon fishing rod on september 12th.
Nintendo's in big trouble! ;)
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Michael Long Artist 6 years ago
The problem is does Apple think the same way?
I remember Iwata saying they make their products considering any kind of competition, direct or indirect.
Even the big TV & phone manufacturers look at gaming as a major draw & essential element in the way they make their electronic devices: especially Android devices.

At the rate they are growing soon Apple and Android will be the all encompassing Monster Platforms they are genetically built to be. Even a ginormous company like Microsoft is unable to stop them.
Peoples gaming habits change drastically at a break neck speed.
Kids gaming foundation are not limited to Nintendo, Sega, PlayStation, Xbox anymore.
They don't care what game it is.
And brand loyalties swing out violently.
Indie games have a fair shot in children's gaming foundation.
The playing field is made even more level than ever.
Its every man's game now on.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Michael Long on 10th September 2012 11:46pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 6 years ago
Sorry, but well written as the piece is, it's just way off. It's more Apples and Oranges (or whatever piece of produce Nintendo represents. Bananas?)

Anyone comparing an Apple product to a Nintendo one in terms of SOFTWARE isn't what I'd call understanding about the console side of the industry and what its consumers want (and will buy). I don't own a device (well, i have one, but I don't use it because it's like a damn taxi meter) and prefer my gaming using as much psychical media as possible. I prefer a TV over a tiny screen, hate DLC in general and like many consumers, just want something that does one thing well, not a device that promises the world and delivers a bit of it (but still doesn't allow you to change the damn battery yourself).
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.6 years ago
Micheal, it's not about brand loyalty and it's not just about kids. It's about the type of content and the type of experience you receive on the different platforms.

If you are looking for a Nintendo type of game or a Nintendo type of experience, Apple is not your first choice. Nintendo obviously is and I'd bet on Apple not even being the 2nd or 3rd consideration.

And so long as people still want that kind of content and experience, Nintendo will have their market because Apple is not in any position to proffer the same thing.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 6 years ago
Both Apple and Nintendo want to reach early adopters when they hit retail.
Draw a Venn diagram of Nintendo early adopters and iPhone early adopters and I am sure that there is some overlap of the two data sets. But how much? Obviously Nintendo don't think it is significant.

Then there is the whole ethos of Nintendo and the way that this is reflected in their marketing. Nintendo see themselves as an entertainment company with a collection of blockbuster franchises. It is these franchises that get the big launches and the massive marketing pushes. The hardware is subsidiary, merely a box to play the IP on.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game6 years ago
Yes, Nintendo and Apple audiences want different things (albeit with some overlap) and specialist gaming press is not going to ignore Nintendo. But there is a valid point that if I was running a broadsheet newspaper, and was only prepared to fly one tech journalist to the US, I would probably choose Apple. So yes there core audiences may be different, but it doesn't change the fact that Nintendo may lose important column inches in mainstream media.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.6 years ago
Andrew, I'd be willing to bet that most news organizations in that kind of scenario would not have covered the Nintendo event to begin with. Mainstream media either doesn't cover video games or covers it very poorly.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game6 years ago
All the UK broadsheets covered the launch of the 3DS, whilst the tabloids were worried kids eyes would blow up, but then that's the gulf between the two halves of the UK press.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd6 years ago
@ Andrew But they didn't cover the announcement of the price. They'll cover the launch, and they'll have stories closer to launch when Nintendo is pushing it to them. The iPhone 5 will launch in a week, or two at most. The Wii U will launch in 2 months, and at that time Apple will not be getting any press attention that would otherwise go to Nintendo.
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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 6 years ago
Well we should find out about what's going on for the European release at the same time as the US announcement now. All rather exciting now.
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Caleb Hale Journalist 6 years ago
I'm not at all sure how people who haven't solidified their gaming habits would respond to the choice between the Nintendo Wii U and the games available in the App Store. As someone who cut their teeth on consoles, I can say even the best iPad games haven't held my attention as long as mediocre console games. The Nintendo-Apple overlap might not be a prominent as some make it out to be, as people looking at an iPhone are first and foremost looking for a good smartphone.
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Daniel Hughes Studying PhD Literary Modernism, Bangor University6 years ago

At least one mainstream site has so far covered the announcement of the price announcement event, so I think Nintendo may do ok on that count.

It'll be interesting to see how many mainstream sources carry the pricing announcements and what kind of reaction there is.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.6 years ago
So. That was supposed to overshadow tomorrows Nintendo event?
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game6 years ago
Perhaps not.
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Daniel Hughes Studying PhD Literary Modernism, Bangor University6 years ago
It's quite interesting, numerous mainstream (British) sites have picked up this morning's Japan announcements. It's currently the top technology article on the BBC's website:

EDIT: The Guardian, the Telegraph and Reuters UK have also picked up on the story.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Daniel Hughes on 13th September 2012 12:35pm

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Abhimanyu Kumar Associate Product Manager, Zynga6 years ago
Even though the target users of the Nintendo Wii U and the iPhone 5 are quite different, I think a slight overlap might now occur due to the way Apple showcased the gaming-device-capability of the iPhone 5 during the launch keynote on 12th September, 2012 (video link - Rob Murray, executive producer at EA, not only displayed the graphical and processing power of the device, but also communicated the potential of the iPhone 5 as a great on-the-go gaming device.

Though it is true that journalists would've covered the iPhone 5 and the Wii U separately, depending on what kind of audience they were writing for, I think there is going to be a big possibility of comparisons happening between the Wii U and the iPhone 5, in terms of gaming device capability. Wii U will definitely beat the iPhone 5 in terms of hardware capability, but then a competing platform for the two devices could be the number of hardcore vs. casual gamers who'd buy the Wii U vs. iPhone 5, respectively, for the upcoming holiday season.

Nintendo might've made a smart move by the launching the device closer to the holiday season, but it might just have to look out for the iPhone 5 eating into its christmas sales.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Abhimanyu Kumar on 14th September 2012 1:13pm

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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 6 years ago
Anyway, i think WiiU conferance was way more exciting then Apple's.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.6 years ago
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