How Nintendo Can Get Into iOS and Keep Making Hardware

I have a buddy of mine who is an iOS developer,  so he gets me all of the inside scoops that I ever need about what’s going on. A few months back at WWDC, he sends me an iPhone picture of a controller attached to an iPhone with the caption, “Holy crap! They’re doing third-party controllers for games now!” I was ecstatic.

And then I promptly forgot about it until the other day when all this talk about Nintendo made its rounds on the web, which got the wheels turning again. Is there a way that Nintendo could get onto the iOS platform and still keep control of its hardware? Maybe.

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The Problem at Hand

Let’s take a moment to discuss the issue that Nintendo is facing, in a very general way. The Wii U is a dud by all accounts, and although sales of handheld games such as the 3DS are doing fine, Nintendo is still in trouble. The company is 100-plus years old, and it could go in the crapper unless something changes soon.

The pic that started it all.

The pic that started it all.

The reason why this topic was so popular amongst the Apple crowd, is because this has a seemingly similar premise to Apple’s problems in ’90s. Basically, Apple stuck to their guns and pulled out, but it took Steve Jobs, NeXT and a whole bunch of other stuff to make that happen. Many theorized that Nintendo should just do the same thing, others argued the opposite — it’s a mess.

Why It Matters

To us Apple/iOS people, why does it matter? Because most of us grew up playing Nintendo games. We may have an old NES collecting dust in a closet somewhere, or an N64 that we display in our living room (if you’re me, anyways). Nintendo is a part of who we are and our childhoods, and that’s why we want it to survive. We love Mario, the Princess and everyone else. Let’s keep them around.

It's-a-me, bankruptcy!

It’s-a-me, bankruptcy!

So the answer, to many, is that Nintendo should port their games to the iOS platform. And according to a 2011 interview with Nintendo President Satoru Iwata, that isn’t going to happen. Why? Because like Apple, Nintendo controllers their hardware and their software. If they give up control of one aspect of that for the other, then they might as well build beige boxes and call themselves Dell. At least that’s the current train of thought.

The Nintendo Answer

Today, with iOS 7, we now have game controller support for game developers. This means that someone out there could build a controller for an iPhone, and then it could potentially become a standard for lots of different games. If that person were someone big, like say, Griffin, Logitech, or, I don’t know, Nintendo, then that could effectively kill sales of the 3DS. After all, who needs to carry around a portable console when their iPhone has everything they need?

My son is three and plays with an iPad all the time. He didn’t even know what to do with the 3DS, and got frustrated after a few minutes. That can’t be good for Nintendo’s future.

This is the in that Nintendo should be looking for. By becoming one of the first companies to make a controller for the iPhone, they could disrupt the market entirely. Nintendo is a large and influential enough company that it could set the standard for what these controllers should be — size, joystick placement, number of buttons — and tailor their own games to suit. Then put Super Mario 64 on there (everyone will buy it, even if it is 17 years old), make a new Super Mario iPhone and back the Brinks truck up because there’s a whole lot of cash on its way.

Now this isn’t necessarily the answer to all of Nintendo’s problems, and potentially it could put them into a darker place. They’re then reliant on Apple to make sure that they always have hardware that matches up. But here’s the thing: they may not have a choice.

The dinosaur in the room.

The dinosaur in the room.

I own a 3DS, which I bought on a whim because of a new Mario game that peaked my interest. Once I had beaten it, I put it on a shelf and there it’s sat for a few months. Why bring it anywhere? The battery life isn’t fantastic, the touchscreen is lame and I feel like a tool every time I pull it out in public because the guy with graying temples should probably not be so excited about watching Mario hit a block with his noggin. I am not the only person who feels this way, and kids today don’t understand why the touchscreen on a 3DS doesn’t respond the same way it does on an iPhone. My son is three and plays with an iPad all the time. He didn’t even know what to do with the 3DS, and got frustrated after a few minutes. That can’t be good for Nintendo’s future.

Opportunity Knocking

Look, I’m just a guy in a chair behind a keyboard. I don’t know all of the financial nuances of Nintendo’s bottom line, and I can’t possibly understand all of the cultural motivations behind what they do. But what I see here is Apple opening up a door. Nintendo has said previously that it didn’t want to go through, but this opportunity is too big to deny. If they create a controller, make some games and get onto iOS, people will buy all of it in droves.

This could be the thing that brings Nintendo out of the depths they’re in now. Let’s just hope they realize it before it’s too late.