Nintendo finally pulled the wraps off its new platform this week, giving the world the first concrete information about the "innovative" hardware product which company president Satoru Iwata has been talking about for months. Iwata was certainly right about one thing; the announcement has indeed surprised many people, because the Nintendo DS, a handheld gaming device with two independent LCD screens, is most certainly not what anyone expected to see.
Initial reaction to the device has been quick to dismiss it as a "gimmick", and comparisons with Sony's PSP are rife; but as is often the case with Nintendo, commentators may be judging the product all too quickly. For a start, it is unfair to compare a pure games console which will almost certainly hit retail at an affordable price point (expected to be under the Â£100 mark) with Sony's all-singing, all-dancing portable media centre, which will cost more than twice as much; indeed, apart from the fact that both systems play games in some form, the biggest thing they have in common is their release window at the end of 2004.
Nintendo is primarily a software company, whose interest in hardware is largely down to a desire to have absolute control over its own platform, brand and pricing. The company's track record suggests that if it feels the need to introduce an unusual product such as the Nintendo DS, it is because it has software which will only work in this configuration - and detractors should remember that Nintendo has been one of the most consistently innovative and successful companies in the games industry for decades, responsible inventions ranging from the D-Pad, the analogue stick and shoulder buttons right through to the handheld market itself and the now-ubiquitous 3D platformer.
Although the company isn't without its failures - Pokemon Mini, anyone? - it has indicated that it will be satisfied with relatively low uptake of the DS system, presumably suggesting that its development costs have been minimal. The system will be shown in public for the first time at E3, which will also be our first chance to see software running on it and find out that Nintendo has in mind for its new innovation; in the meanwhile, it seems only fair to take the company's track record into account, and give it the benefit of the doubt before accusing it of producing a "gimmick".
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