Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Friday, January 21, 2011

3DS vs. iPhone 4

It's kind of sad really. The King is dead; long live the King. Nintendo has announced more details about the 3DS, the most important being the price: $249 in the U.S. It's cheaper than the price in Japan (which is equivalent to $300), but it's still an eye-opener for this market. Software prices have not yet been announced, but Nintendo has signaled that they will be higher than DS software prices; expect prices to range from $40 to $50, or possibly even higher.

This is coming at a time when Nintendo has just lost the title of best-selling handheld gaming device to Apple. Apple now has over 160 million iOS devices sold, compared to 145 million DS series handhelds sold worldwide. Worse, in 2011 Apple is probably going to sell around 100 million iPhones and iPod Touches, along with perhaps 40 million iPads. Nintendo in their wildest dreams may sell about 30 million DS devices of all flavors... a fraction of what Apple will sell.

Yes, but the 3DS has 3D without glasses. True, and it may look pretty neat. But it's also probably not good for long play sessions due to eyestrain and headaches. Nintendo's got the answer, though; the battery life of the 3DS is only good for about 3 or 4 hours of 3D game play anyway (compared to 12 to 15 hours on a DSi).

Let's compare tech specs: Screen resolutions... the iPhone 4 is 960 x 640 on a 3.5 inch screen, while the 3DS has a 400 x 240 3.53 inch screen (800 x 240 in non-3D mode). Processors? The iPhone 4 has a Cortex A8  running somewhere around 800 MHz along with a PowerVR graphics chip at some unknown clock speed; the 3DS is running at 200 MHz. Cameras? The 3DS can take 3D pictures... at VGA resolution (0.3 MP), which can only be displayed on the 3DS. The iPhone 4 can take 5 MP pictures, along with 720P video. The iPhone 4 has a raft of other sensors like GPS, compass, gyros, motion... the 3DS can sense motion.

You can get an 8GB iPod Touch for $229, or a 32 GB for $299. Same as an iPhone, but without the phone contract... the phone prices are subsidized, of course, but you can get one for $199.

This is all leaving out the (rumored) iPhone 5 that will probably be arriving this summer. No one knows what features it will have, but the likeliest is a new processor: the A5, which supposedly is a dual-core monster which delivers 4x or 5x the current performance with graphics. If Apple follows its usual practice, the current iPhone 4 will be moved down in price while the iPhone 5 will occupy the current price slots.

When you look at software like Infinity Blade for the iPhone 4, it's pretty damn impressive. We'll see more of this as the iPhone audience expands, and developers realize the potential of the devices. The platform is getting yearly upgrades, and it's just going to zoom past Nintendo. The disparity in 2 or 3 years will be shocking.

I'm sorry to see Nintendo go. It's a wrenching change for the game industry, with a whole different series of development and marketing challenges ahead. Oh, Nintendo won't just vanish right away. The 3DS will have a lot of sales, lots of laudatory reviews and game industry execs touting its virtues so they can sell software. But ultimately I think consumers will continue to flock to smartphones and tablets at an order of magnitude higher rate than the 3DS (I didn't bother to add in the Android market to the above discussion). Any publisher is going to want to direct its resources to the biggest market. Yes, having an early title for the 3DS will be a moneymaker... but there's even better potential in smartphones. 2011 will be the year mobile game revenues (smartphones and tablets) pass up handheld game revenues (3DS, PSP2, DS, and PSP). And the gap will just grow wider.

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