Friday, April 10, 2009

Is That A Game Or A Netbook?

The line between computers and electronic games has been fuzzy for years. That's basically because a modern gaming console really is a powerful computer, with the games implemented as applications software. So it should come as no surprise that Nintendo's new handheld game system has netbook-like features that include WiFi connectivity with security, a Web browser, and expandable memory.

Make no mistake about it, the Nintendo DSi is targeted toward gamers. It has a console you can hold in your hand, it's battery powered, and it runs Nintendo DS game cartridges. Actually, the DSi is the next evolutionary step for the Nintendo DS series. It's been an extremely popular product line for Nintendo. I've got the DS lite version myself. But what does this iteration offer that would justify an upgrade and how does this device intrude on the nascent netbook market?

In a way, the Nintendo DSi looks like it should be a small notebook computer. It's flat black case flips open to reveal...

Well, not a keyboard. Instead you'll find two screens. One is on the lid where you'd expect it. The other is on the case where you'd normally find a QWERTY keyboard. Instead of letter and number keys, there's a joystick control and some other push-buttons. The screens are slightly larger, 3.25 inches, than their DS lite predecessor. The lower screen is a touchscreen to make up for the limited number of buttons available.

The Opera Web browser and games make use of both screens, giving you about twice the visual real estate of a touchscreen cell phone. That's the other gadget that the DSi could be looking to partially emulate.

There are 2 cameras included in the DSi, which are new to the Nintendo DS family. One camera is on the case and faces outward. The other is on the inside and faces toward you. They're being promoted for taking taking goofy pictures and playing around with them using some comical photo editing features. But I'm thinking two-way video conferencing someday. Well, why not? There's a microphone onboard and WiFi transceiver. It's just a matter of someone coming up with the right app.

Music is also onboard this version of the DS. There's an AAC format music player and stereo speakers. You can even record short sound clips using the onboard mic and play around with them using the audio software. Oddly, this device doesn't support MP3, which is more of the industry standard. But it is a music player, and you have the SD memory card slot available to make sure you have enough storage for your music and photos.

Clearly, the Nintendo DSi is a toy and not a piece of business gear. The resolution of the screens and cameras is low by today's high definition standards. There's no Microsoft Office software package and certainly no disk drive. But think about it. Where netbooks are leading us is to a world in the clouds where the true processing power and massive storage will reside. The access device, be it a smartphone, netbook, or perhaps even a gaming console, is a thin client that only needs the hardware and firmware required to input and output to the cloud over the Internet.

So, what do you suppose some clever developers could do to hot-rod the functionality of the DSi? Could they build it out for VoIP telephony over WiFi using Skype? Play videos or live TV? Two-way video conferencing? Email and instant messaging? Multimedia messaging? Blogging? Tweeting? Running business applications from specially designed Web sites?

Perhaps this is a bit fanciful, but you can see how portable game consoles, cell phones and netbook computers are on a collision course. What gets used for what remains to be seen. For the mean time, if you are interested in a sweet portable gaming console with some multimedia and Internet capabilities, take a closer look at the new Nintendo DSi.

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