Nintendo Shouldn’t Have Shown DS Before Today

So, Nintendo DS will be introduced in North America at $149. In my opinion that’s a great price point. I kind of expected the company to go with the rumored $199, though the Game Boy Advance SP price drop made me wonder — there’s really no reason to make Game Boy cheaper except to create room for the new kid on the block.

The second hot piece of information in Nintendo’s press release is that the DS will come preloaded with ‘PictoChat’, a wireless chat application which allows up to 16 users to send each other text and drawings. It was pretty fun at E3 even with four players, especially because it allowed you to edit other users’ drawings and send them again. As an added fun factor, your DS will receive messages even when in sleep mode.

Since E3, people including myself have been saying Nintendo should build apps like this into the hardware. I doubt Nintendo specifically ‘listened to our comments’ though — enabling any DS owner to chat at any time is just common sense.

I’m not entirely happy yet, though. If Nintendo is including a built-in chat function, why not also include some PDA functionality? I know that for this to happen DS needs some more internal, writable memory, but easy to use note-taking, calculator, address book and calendar apps shouldn’t be too hard to program and could radically alter people’s perception of this machine. Who knows, maybe being a ‘PDA DS’ could stop it being banned from schools?

According to Nintendo’s fact sheet the DS also comes with a “date, time and alarm” function, another reason for me to say: why not go all the way?

I started this entry to discuss something else, though. Actually, I felt like returning from my summer break to write about this. Right now I’m glad I didn’t, because in the heat surrounding that $149 news, it doesn’t feel nearly as important.

I’m talking about the DS’s exterior design. It’s not the design itself, as I think it’s great — though I don’t like the logo and feel it should’ve been called ‘Dual-Screen’ instead of just ‘DS’. It’s not the discussion of whether Nintendo ‘listened to gamers’ with the new design either — though I’ll be quick to question whether our opinions were that important in the process. I mean, it was said right at E3 that what we were playing on were just prototypes.

What I wanted to question this summer is whether Nintendo did the right thing showing an unfinished hardware model. After E3 every website and every magazine printed pictures of a prototype without the slightest sense of style. After E3 Nintendo fans effectively hyped the wrong product.

Looks are very important to people and I’m sure many formed the wrong opinion on Nintendo’s new handheld.

But what else could Nintendo have done? It probably wanted to show DS no matter what and its engineers clearly didn’t finish the final design in time. The company is probably glad it got the point of the touch-screen accross at E3 — and it’s happily milking its momentum with regular press updates. (Is that a games line-up announcement I see at the horizon?)

Still, I maintain Nintendo shouldn’t have shown DS before today. Keeping external developers silent would’ve been tough, but coming out of nowhere with a $149 product sporting kick-ass functionality and a cool design would’ve created a far bigger splash. Launching November 21? Wow, that’s in exactly two months!

What I’m ending up writing is a broader comment on Nintendo’s business practices. Nintendo is often seen as a secretive company, but I feel it’s not nearly secretive enough. Nintendo could really learn from Apple — a company that’s got its silent periods and then, boom, suddenly announces something incredibly complete and new like the iMac G5.

Another example: at E3 Nintendo talked up ‘Mario Party 6′ and its innovative control system (“You can play it without a controller!”) without actually showing the game or the GameCube Mic. When the press release finally appeared, fans said: “It’s just a microphone.” I’m sure that, had Nintendo shut up about its future party game, fans would have said: “Hey! It’s a microphone!”

It’s the first impression that counts and if you ask me Nintendo should be more careful about the first time people hear about its future products.