Friday, March 25, 2011
What has Nintendo done wrong?

Today saw the launch of the Nintendo 3DS and the iPad 2. As these are two important and fascinating gadgets, I made sure I played with both on the day of their release.

First, I went to HMV in Piccadilly to try the 3DS. Even at 4pm is was pretty empty, so I hunted for 10 minutes looking for the 3DS demos that the signs outside were promising. There was nobody in the games area, so I wandered into country music and asked a bored-looking chap in an HMV shirt.

"No idea," he said. "I've only just started my shift." He wandered back to the games area and asked an even-more-bored-looking girl.

"Front of the store," she said, rolling her eyes.

Back at the entrance I had evidently walked straight past a rickety trestle table with a hastily photocopied picture of a 3DS scrawled with the words 'Live Demo Today' cellotaped to it. An employee with an ironic moustache had in his hand - praise be! - a 3DS. He let me have a play, and shared some of the specs with me.

Actually, I'm lying. He said: "It's not 3D. It's, like, aug-er-mented reality and stuff."

Let's get something straight. The Nintendo 3DS is a handheld games console that has a 3D screen that doesn't need glasses. By any measure that's f**king amazing, and playing it was pretty cool. I was seeing in 3D, and didn't need glasses. This should have been nothing less than a life-changing experience. It should have given me that dizzy feeling when I see things that should still be in the future.

But here I was, in an empty store, with an idiot telling me things about the device that I knew were blatantly, and worryingly, wrong. I was playing on a games console that did something so amazing the only possible next step for the Nintendo product line would be time travel, but the entire experience fell flat.

Fast forward an hour and I'm standing outside the Covent Garden Apple Store chatting to the Stuff Magazine crew, who'd been filming there since 5am. There are approximately a million other people present.

The atmosphere is electric... Like an impromptu street party. People are shouting, whooping and cheering. The queue outside the store is so long, it loops around itself four times, splits, and then carries on around Covent Garden Piazza way further than I could see. Hordes of Apple Store staff swarm around the crowd, keeping them entertained, telling them where to go, and answering excited questions.

Every time someone emerges from the store holding their freshly-purchased iPad 2, they get high-fived by a beaming Apple Store employee, and the crowd erupts again.

Yes, I said high-fived.

It was reasonably easy to get into the store if you weren't in the buying queue, so I popped in and had a play on the iPad 2. And guess what? It's like the iPad, only a bit thinner. It is an evolution, not a revolution. Yes, the first iPad was amazing. This is still amazing, but doesn't really change anything. In fact, I was a little disappointed at how heavy it was.

Just to recap, the Nintendo 3DS has a 3D screen that doesn't need glasses.

So my question is this: Why was the Nintendo launch such a sad sight, while Apple hosted the party of the year?

3DS pic courtesy of jontintinjordan. Apple store pic courtesy of me.