How Nintendo tries, and fails, to be Apple

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It’s apparent Nintendo wants to replicate Apple’s approach to product cycles. Tweak a product slightly on a regular basis, sell the product at a favorable profit margin (instead of a loss), starts printing money, etc; that has certainly been working well for Apple, and for the most part Nintendo has been successful with that strategy as well with Nintendo Wii (which is more of a GameCube upgrade, cynically speaking) and the Nintendo DS/DSi/XL series.

That is, until now.

The iPad 2 is a marginal update compared to the original iPad. Yes, it’s thinner, lighter, boasts two cameras, a bigger hard drive, and has a faster processor. But other than that, there aren’t any major differences compared to the original iPad. The product launched earlier this year with much fanfare and has been selling like hotcakes every since.

The 3DS is also an update to the already popular Nintendo DSi. It features a stereoscopic (3D) display, a more powerful processor, as well as a series of much-needed software refinements. Unlike the iPad 2, however, the product launched earlier this year to cold shoulders and hasn’t been selling too well. The press (and the general public, by proxy) has since deemed the product as a failure, to the point where Nintendo has announced today massive-cuts not only for the 3DS, but also on the salary of the company’s president as well as the representative directors in an attempt to please the increasingly-disgruntled shareholders.

Though, just to provide some sort of perspective, the Nintendo 3DS did sell 4.3 million units globally in the past four months. In contrast, the original Nintendo DS sold 5.4 million units in the same duration that was also over the holiday season. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time Nintendo is slashing prices shortly after a product’s launch. They did the same thing with the Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and yes, the Virtual Boy.

Both iPad 2 and the 3DS were created as updates of a previously-successful device, but why did the outcome of these two devices vary so much? One of the signs point to the 3DS’s hefty $250 price tag. Unlike the iPad 2, where despite the marginal technical upgrade, the price remained the same from its predecessor. The 3DS, however, started off with a premium price-tag of $250, a sharp jump from Nintendo DSi’s $170. The price hike implies 3DS to be a completely new device (even though it really, really isn’t), but moreso it exudes arrogance: you’ll buy it no matter the cost.

Of course, the demographic for both companies is different as well. A $499 entry-level iPad is ultimately more affordable to a full-time working hipster living in San Francisco than it is for a typical middle-schooler who relies on his monthly allowance for a $250 Nintendo 3DS. But even though both companies have their own die-hard, loyal fanbase, Apple tend to create products that cater to their “I’m a Mac” demographic while Nintendo continuously ignore their fans in their new products in hopes to expand their market share. As a result, the blue ocean has never been colder.

Then again, every cloud has a silver lining. This recent price cut may just be the alarm call needed for Nintendo to stop their stubbornness and finally get some work done. From what I’ve seen of the next-generation game console, Wii U seems to be another “minor upgrade” product to the current Nintendo Wii. Yet from the single-touch, non-portable tablet controller to the limited Internet support, the console can be so much more if only Nintendo gets more aggressive with the product, instead of sugar coating their complacency with half-hearted “That’s not what we’re about” excuses as usual.

There can only be so many comebacks before consumers give up. Apple came back with the iMac and never looked back. Can Nintendo do the same?


Image courtesy of Nexus404.com

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