A few years ago your humble scribe was advised it may be worth 'keeping an eye' on an Apple event, to which the response was a raised eyebrow. Sure enough, nothing happened; in fact Apple straight up copied the Wii with its motion controllers for a gaming-focused Apple TV, an initiative that didn't quite take off. In any case, when Nintendo announced it was going into mobile in early 2015 it made sense to watch Apple and Google showcases - just in case.
Then, it happened, the moment Nintendo fully embraced mobile gaming on stage with a major smart device manufacturer - Shigeru Miyamoto appeared at an Apple event to promote Super Mario Run in early September 2016. Promotion for that game - as it was on iOS first - would continue to play up the Apple relationship, though Nintendo does also seem eager (overall) to keep a positive relationship with Google and its Android ecosystem, too.
This all happened after Pokémon GO, of course, which went viral and for a few weeks seemed to be all the world talked about. It wasn't because it was the first game of its type - it wasn't - nor was it particularly mind-blowing on a technical level, but rather it found the right blend of all the right parts. It took a hugely popular franchise, had a gameplay hook (collecting) to lure in everyone else, adopted established technology and resources in mapping, and brought it all together in a cohesive whole on a device we all have with us everywhere we go. Niantic, The Pokémon Company and to a lesser extent (apparently about 7% of shares) Nintendo all hit the jackpot, amounting to $950 million total revenue in 2016 (according to App Annie).
Apple and Google also hit the jackpot every time an app goes big, of course, and there were clearly hopes along those lines when Shigeru Miyamoto was invited onto Apple's stage in 2016. There were multiple reasons why Super Mario Run didn't launch into the stratosphere, but it's worth remembering that this web-based world has a short memory. Nintendo will still want to go big on mobile, and the major platform holders in the space will likely want to host the Kyoto company to try and share any potential success.
And so we have the upcoming Apple Special Event, starting today (12th September) at 10am Pacific / 1am Eastern / 6pm UK / 7pm CEST. It seems a number of the reveals have been 'leaked', through data dug out in a firmware update; this includes a new iPhone and potentially a lot of details around it, and a new Apple Watch. Call us cynics if you want, but the volume of information apparently leaked is either a) dubious or b) deliberately let out by Apple to build hype. After all, the leaks are juicy enough to excite without going into the full nitty gritty of detail, leading some to call it the most anticipated iPhone reveal (in particular) since the original. Nope, that doesn't seem manufactured at all.
Interestingly, though, it may be a show worth watching for those still hooked on Pokémon GO. Some industry followers have suggested - in articles like this on The Guardian - that augmented reality will be a major battleground between Apple and Google in the coming year. With Virtual Reality still in the process of making steady steps towards mainstream popularity, AR technically already got there - briefly but ongoing to an extent - with Pokémon GO. Apple’s ARKit technology aims to improve this kind of gaming - for example it can ground characters like Pokémon onto a solid surface, rather than have them float in the air - and Pokémon GO is due an update to utilise it. On top of that an improved Apple Watch may help revive that part of the GO project, especially if more of the full gameplay can continue when playing on the watch alone..
With that in mind Pokémon GO seems like a solid bet for a gaming segment, especially as Niantic is still in the middle of a major push to win back some lapsed fans. In recent months there have been events (with mixed success) and also the introduction of Legendaries, all to bring it back into headlines. If AR does get a big push from Apple it'll be one to draw a rueful smile from some Nintendo gamers, too - the 3DS tried to take augmented reality forward but struggled to build momentum or excitement around it. The Switch, of course, doesn't have a camera, and it's a natural evolution that AR may find success on the one device we always have in our pocket - the smartphone.
In terms of Nintendo, it's tough to figure out the odds of the company appearing a year on from Miyamoto-san's Mario showcase. The company has been pretty quiet for a while on its Animal Crossing project for mobile, while rumours reported by the likes of The Wall Street Journal point to The Legend of Zelda getting a smart device game. Let's remember that Super Mario Run essentially skipped the queue ahead of Fire Emblem Heroes and Animal Crossing for release, so the same could happen with Legend of Zelda jumping ahead. If those rumours are true, and plans shifted following the popular culture impact of Breath of the Wild, then a similar surprise appearance by Nintendo isn't out of the question. There's also loose speculation around a major update to Super Mario Run, so perhaps that is also a contender for a mention.
When it comes to Nintendo Mobile we're in an interesting spot. The company has been busy (with its partners) in keeping Fire Emblem Heroes active, and also released the Nintendo Switch Online app (which is neat for Splatoon 2, less so for voice chat). The company has also said it's still on track to release more games, but little has been said specifically (as highlighted above). Whether Nintendo appears with Apple today or not, it'll be interesting to see how much it talks about its next mobile games in the coming months.
It seems strange, in some ways, to be writing about an Apple Keynote Event here. Yet while the Switch is off to a strong start and Nintendo has its own potential smash hits for the market, the extraordinary reach and potential profits from smart device apps and games will mean it remains part of the business plan. Nintendo is yet to find the perfect blend, but knows that if it can excite the public with an app around the likes of Animal Crossing or The Legend of Zelda it can be hugely beneficial. After all, sales of 3DS systems and main series Pokémon games saw boosts following the initial success of GO; success in one area contributes to positives elsewhere in the business.
It's all a sign of the times.