Last week's Corporate Management Policy and Third Quarter Financial Results Briefing Q&A session has just been translated into English, which allows us non-Japanese speakers to find out the inner workings of Satoru Iwata's brain. One topic which cropped up is the way in which Nintendo handles its hardware platforms; currently, the Wii U and 3DS are separate entities with little in common from a tech or software perspective. Iwata has hinted that this may not be the case for much longer.
The Nintendo president picks up on the advantages of having hardware which can "absorb" the characteristics and specs of other pieces of Nintendo tech — such as the way in which the Wii was based on the architecture of its direct predecessor, the GameCube. This speeds up the development process and prevents the software shortages which impacted the launches of both the 3DS and Wii U:
Currently it requires a huge amount of effort to port Wii software to Nintendo 3DS because not only their resolutions but also the methods of software development are entirely different. The same thing happens when we try to port Nintendo 3DS software to Wii U. If the transition of software from platform to platform can be made simpler, this will help solve the problem of game shortages in the launch periods of new platforms. Also, as technological advances took place at such a dramatic rate, and we were forced to choose the best technologies for video games under cost restrictions, each time we developed a new platform, we always ended up developing a system that was completely different from its predecessor.
The only exception was when we went from Nintendo GameCube to Wii. Though the controller changed completely, the actual computer and graphics chips were developed very smoothly as they were very similar to those of Nintendo GameCube, but all the other systems required ground-up effort. However, I think that we no longer need this kind of effort under the current circumstances. In this perspective, while we are only going to be able to start this with the next system, it will become important for us to accurately take advantage of what we have done with the Wii U architecture. It of course does not mean that we are going to use exactly the same architecture as Wii U, but we are going to create a system that can absorb the Wii U architecture adequately. When this happens, home consoles and handheld devices will no longer be completely different, and they will become like brothers in a family of systems.
Interestingly, Iwata also cited Apple's iOS and Google's Android as platforms he wants to emulate with future Nintendo systems. He admitted that he still did not know if Nintendo's next console would be an "all in one" solution — as has been mooted — or if the company could take the opposite route (like Apple and Android) and release many different hardware variants, all running the same basic operating system and all therefore able to play the same games:
I am not sure if the form factor (the size and configuration of the hardware) will be integrated. In contrast, the number of form factors might increase. Currently, we can only provide two form factors because if we had three or four different architectures, we would face serious shortages of software on every platform. To cite a specific case, Apple is able to release smart devices with various form factors one after another because there is one way of programming adopted by all platforms. Apple has a common platform called iOS. Another example is Android. Though there are various models, Android does not face software shortages because there is one common way of programming on the Android platform that works with various models.
The point is, Nintendo platforms should be like those two examples. Whether we will ultimately need just one device will be determined by what consumers demand in the future, and that is not something we know at the moment. However, we are hoping to change and correct the situation in which we develop games for different platforms individually and sometimes disappoint consumers with game shortages as we attempt to move from one platform to another, and we believe that we will be able to deliver tangible results in the future.
It's certainly an interesting concept; a Nintendo OS which can run on multiple hardware configurations and promises widespread compatibility, therefore allowing you to upgrade as time goes on without losing access to older software. It also ties in with Nintendo's plans to create a more robust, account-based user system — another element of Apple and Google's software which Nintendo would do well to replicate.
What do you think about Iwata's comments? Does this mean the rumours of an sole Nintendo system in the future — as opposed to a home console and a handheld — are not going to happen? Could we see Nintendo adopt Apple's strategy, and produce several different pieces of hardware which all run on the same software, but occupy different places in the market? Let us know your predictions — and your thoughts on Iwata's responses — by posting something below.