To buy a DSi XL, or an iPad? That is the question.
The coming week is a big one for gamers, as Apple and Nintendo go head-to-head in the handheld gadget market. Nintendo starts the battle on Sunday as it begins selling the DSi XL game handheld for $189.99. Apple follows with the April 3 debut of the iPad, which is a tablet computer with many applications beyond games.
On the one hand, the competition between these devices is fierce because gamers aren’t likely to dish out money for both of these gadgets. The Apple iPad is a bigger threat than Nintendo would readily admit, mainly because the top app on Apple’s multiple mobile platforms is gaming. And while Nintendo games sell for $20 to $30, most of Apple’s iPad apps are going to be a lot cheaper. On top of that, Apple will have tons of free and 99 cent apps that will run on the iPad. So while the iPad costs a lot more than the DSi XL, the software expense for the iPad is likely to be much lower. This is why the folks at Nintendo say they’re not worried, but underneath the surface they’re paddling like hell.
On the other hand, these devices are so different that it’s hard to say they are competitors. If the DSi XL has a direct rival, it’s more likely to be the $199 8-gigabyte iPod Touch model. Some people are going to like the single-minded gaming focus of the Nintendo DSi XL, while others are going to enjoy the multi-purpose nature of the iPad.
In this corner: the DSi XL
The most distinctive selling point of the DSi XL is screen size. The device has two 4.2-inch LCD screens with backlighting that enables you to view it at any angle. You can see from the picture how the screens compare to the previous generation Nintendo DSi, and the screens are 93 percent larger than the Nintendo DS Lite. The bottom screen has analog touch capabilities that you can touch the screen with a stylus or finger. It also has two digital cameras, 17 hours of battery life, and the same general features as the DSi. Even the stylus is bigger.
This is the latest example of “gotta have it,” envy-inducing marketing by Nintendo. As soon as I shared the DSi XL with my oldest kid, the younger one complained, “Why don’t I get to use it?” But Nintendo’s marketing solace, as related by U.S. sales and marketing chief Cammie Dunaway, is that the screen is viewable from any angle so that multiple people can watch the screen at the same time. The DSi XL is so cool that it’s fun to be a spectator when someone else is playing, and it is thus a much more social device. My younger one is not buying that argument.
Fortunately for Nintendo, software matters in this choice between Nintendo or Apple. Nintendo is also launching a bunch of new titles that are hitting the market at the same time, giving gamers reasons to pick up a new version of the DS, which first began selling in 2004. Among the big games debuting now are Pokemon HeartGold and Pokemon SoulSilver, WarioWare D.I.Y., and America’s Test Kitchen. You’ll even be able to read classic books on the DSi XL, though the eBook application isn’t expected to be all that compelling. The XL also comes with three preinstalled titles that no parent is going to object to: Brain Age Express Math, Brain Age Express Arts & Letters, and Photo Clock. It comes in black or burgundy.
The problem with the DSi XL, which is a retrofit with only one new feature (bigger screen), is that it is not that innovative when compared with all of the things the Apple iPad offers. The DSi XL may be good for people with eyesight problems. But the Apple iPad offers a whole new kind of experience.
And in this corner, the iPad
Apple’s iPad will have a bigger touch screen that is 9.7 inches diagonally. The LED backlit screen is perfect for playing games. It will play iPhone/iPod Touch games and double the number of pixels to scale up an image for the bigger screen. But lots of game publishers are designing games especially for the big screen. Titles range from Flight Control HD to Nanosaur 2 for iPad. But the Apple intends the iPad to go far beyond games, letting users cruise the web (and see sites that at least don’t run Flash), read color electronic books, watch movies (not full-screen HD, but nearly so), and listen to music. When you swipe your hand across the iPad’s surface, the screen changes so fast that you’ll be stunned at the speed.
Of course, the DSi XL’s big advantage over the iPad is price. The iPad has multiple models available, starting at $499 for a 16-gigabyte version with Wi-Fi only and, at the high end, a 64-gigabyte model with 3G service at $829. It has a ten hour battery life. Memory capacity ranges from 16 gigabytes to 64 gigabytes. It is just a half inch thick, weighs 1.5 inch pounds, and is too big to carry in your pocket. With its own Apple-designed A4 1-gigahertz processor, the iPad has a lot more horsepower than any DS model. But on this first model, the iPad has no cameras.
Games could be very interesting on the iPad because, like the iPhone, it has a unique control scheme, allowing for different kinds of games. With a multitouch screen, the iPad can accommodate big fingers doing lots of things at once. It also has an accelerometer that detects motion and facing, so you can control a race car by turning the iPad in one direction or another while holding it with two hands. You’ll be able to play fast-and-furious touchscreen games with a whole lot of tactile feel to them on the iPad.
Which should you choose?
Nintendo isn’t going to stop and wait to see how well the DSi XL stacks up against the iPad. It’s stepping on the gas and plans to launch a new handheld, dubbed the Nintendo 3DS, which lets you view images on the screen in three dimensions without needing 3-D glasses. That handheld will be unveiled at E3 in June and will debut during the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011. It will be targeted for the Japanese market first, and it allegedly has an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor in it. This move suggests that Nintendo knows that the DSi XL is not a new generation device. Rather, it is more like a mid-life kicker for the DS line, while Nintendo readies the true next-generation DS device for the future.
The decision here is probably comes down to who you are. If you’re getting a nice toy for a kid, the DSi XL is your choice, though an iPod Touch is a pretty good bargain for about the same amount of money. If you’re getting something for an adult, particularly one who wants more than games, the iPad is going to be a much nicer and cooler toy.
Companies: Apple, nintendo