Nintendo looks to have been channeling Apple with its new DSi XL portable gaming console. Both the XL and Apple’s iPad are, for the most part, magnified versions of existing products (the DSi and the iPhone, respectively), and both have been criticized for that very reason. Why take a pocketable product and, without any major changes in hardware or software, make it bigger? After Nintendo’s annoucement today in San Francisco, some have reported that the answer is the same: books. But that’s misleading, given Nintendo’s actual intentions.
Today, Nintendo revealed that the DSi XL, along with several new high-profile games, will be coming Stateside this year. The DSi XL was released in Japan in November of last year, and has been fairly, if not explosively, successful there. It’s little more than a larger DSi, as implied by the name: dual 4.2-inch screens, compared to the DSi’s 3.25-inchers, plus a consequently larger body (1.6 times larger than the DSi) and, impressively, a longer battery life. Nintendo has suggested the larger size could be useful for bystanders, because we all know everybody wants to watch you fall off the Banshee Boardwalk level of Mario Kart DS twelve times per lap, but also proposed a more interesting use for the bigger, better screens: book reading.
Unfortunately, Nintendo’s strategy hardly deserves to be referred to as such. The DSi XL has interesting potential as an ebook reader, with its two screens that can be held sideways to imitate an open book, a Wi-Fi connection and Web browser, and stylus-based interaction, but Nintendo hasn’t chosen to take much advantage. The extent of the ebook strategy consists of a game called 100 Classic Books, made up of public domain (read: free) books like the works of Dickens, Austen, and Doyle. For $20. Nintendo’s executive VP for sales in North America summed up the offering well: “It’s not really about trying to take on the e-book market. It’s just one more way to enjoy your device.”
There’s nothing wrong with that–I’d probably enjoy reading a Sherlock Holmes story or two while waiting for the bus–but let’s not pretend, as some are reporting, that Nintendo is “entering the ebook market.”