Nintendo controller the next iPod?


Not really sure in what context it’s the next Ipod.

The Ipod revolutionized an existing product through a complete package that included hardware, software, and lots of marketing.

With that said I can’t say I ever intend on buying an Ipod when similar alternatives (that don’t require Itunes which I dislike) exist for less money.

The Revolution/Wii controller is certainly a step forward in console thought. Instead of just adding buttons to allow for more gameplay freedom they’re looking at different functionality. However the PS3 controller is supposed to also feature a 6 axis sensor which detects the controllers movement around a space. With that said I think the Nintendo controller is a right step in trying to capture a broader market that want’s more simple and fun games, vs the Xbox button mashing fest.

In the context of being sufficiently “disruptive” (see the link inside my commentary) that it affects a) the market and b) software UI.

There was an interesting article in Time magazine about the Wii hardware and interface design. The mentioned that they where not necessarily going for the core gamer, which is a defined and limited (in their view) niche market. They where going for untapped markets, girls, retired people, 30 something single women, and all of these groups in their view had the same problems with video games, they couldn’t get them to do what they wanted. So they put an intense amount of R&D into developing a more intuitive input device. I am skeptical, but all the reviews I have read so far say it is awesome. I read about a tennis game where the controller can sense if the degree of wrist rotation for slices or lobs, it can tell if you are in a backhand or forehand, and the speed at which you move it for power, the virtual racquet even has a sweet spot… there must be an intense number of sensors in that thing…

I think that you are on the right track that the work Nintendo has done to interface the last few years, including this controller, will change all interfaces in the future. In fact, it already has. Sony’s new Playstation 3 controller will have a motion detector, although the rest of the design is a carry-over from the orginal Playstation. However, I am more sceptical that the revolution will be Nintendo’s console in the same way MP3 players are connected to iPod. The reason is threefold: history of interface, history of games and the design itself.

Despite the march of time, our man-machine interfaces evolve at a slower pace than the technology behind them. We’ve been stuck with QWERTY since 1863, mice since 1970, and video game joy-sticks since 1977 (or earlier if one wants to include aircraft controls). There have been advances in all of these technologies that could have relegated them to the dustbin, but somehow they all survived. In fact, the Nintendo controller still has most of the familiar controls that the orginal Atari 2600 controller had: a directional stick, albeit analog now, and buttons.

If conservativism of control isn’t enough, there is the even more conservative video game buyer. I really do hope that Nintendo, or someone, can broaden the industry. Everyone should have that joy of controling the TV. However, history is against them. There have been numerous attempts to truly advance the console industry, and almost all have failed. In the end, it is the games that matter, not the interface. It is up to the programmers to make a killer ap for Nintendo that will make people learn its interface.

Lastly, I don’t think the controller will be the next iPod, because its design isn’t iconic. This last bit is entirely opinion, but still relevant. From the moment I first saw an iPod it stuck out. It’s simple shape, materials and very graphic interface, immediately burned themselves as something uniquely memorable. The Nintendo contoller reminds me of remotes I’ve seen and of the original NES controller, but doesn’t stand out at all. It’s an entirely forgetable design. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you agree that its the killer ap that will make people buy the thing!

Which is why I said this:

especially if the controller alone reinvigorates the play of old games

Reports I’ve read mention that playing old games with this controller is like playing a whole new game. People have a lot of money tied up in old games. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Sony and MS (and Nintendo) worry about backward compatibility - even to the point that they don’t quite tell the truth about it. It’s important. Imagine a $100 controller that could make all the old games feel new again. Make the old machine gathering dust fun again.

So here we have a device that, if those reports are accurate, doesn’t need a killer app in the sense you’re saying.