When the Nintendo DS was first announced, it was largely seen as a gaming machine. When compared to its main rival, the PlayStation Portable, some called it "a kid's machine," since it didn't have the flashier multimedia functions like the PSP.
Even without the ability to browse the Internet or listen to MP3s, the DS has enjoyed greater retail success than its competitor, in part due to the system's relative affordability (currently $129.99 versus the PSP's price tag of $249.99) and Nintendo's track record in the portable market.
Now it appears that the so-called "kid's machine" is growing up. At the D.I.C.E. Summit held in Las Vegas last week, Nintendo announced that the DS would soon support voice over IP, a function that will let DS users chat in real time, thanks to the machine's integrated microphone. Though currently planned to work in the pre- and post-game lobbies of only one title, Metroid Prime: Hunters, there is likely to be more in store for the DS's VoIP capabilities in the future.
According to an announcement made by Nintendo today, the plans for the DS's future don’t stop at VoIP. At a press conference in Japan, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata revealed that the handheld will soon have the ability to surf the Web and watch digital television broadcasts.
[UPDATE] President Iwata has revealed the Nintendo DS Browser, a Web browser made by Oslo, Norway-based Opera Software. The browser will be based on Opera's PC Internet browser but will take advantage of some of the DS's integrated capabilities. The browser will be cartridge-based and is slated for release in Japan this June at the price of 3,800 yen ($32). Nintendo is considering shipping the product overseas.
Browsing will take place on both screens, and an onscreen keypad and the stylus will control navigation and input. The DS's two screens can be used to show off a single Web page, or the DS can scale down a site to fit on one screen and use the other to zoom in on a portion of the site.
Rather than using the D pad and buttons to input text, DS owners can use the stylus to write on the DS's touch screen, which features PDA-style handwriting recognition. The browser will also feature an onscreen keyboard.
The DS will double as a television. Iwata unveiled a new accessory that lets users watch TV broadcasts on the DS. The product is tentatively named DS Chijouha Digital Housou Jushin Card (DS digital-broadcast receiver card) and will be compliant with the new 1seg broadcast service, a digital signal designed for mobile devices, which will launch in Japan this April. 1seg broadcasts run in QVGA resolution (320x240 pixels).
The DS digital-broadcast receiver card will snap into the handheld's DS cartridge slot and feature an extendable antenna. The TV will be displayed on the upper screen, and the bottom screen will have buttons that can switch channels. Nintendo had a sample of the broadcast tuner running at the conference, but it was a prototype that used the Game Boy Advance cartridge slot. No release date has been announced for the product yet.
President Iwata said that the DS has shipped 6 million units in Japan so far, and it has reached the milestone in record time. He attributed his company's success to what Nintendo calls the "Touch! Generation" games, the titles targeted toward general audiences rather than hardcore gamers. Games in the series include Nintendogs and Yawaraka Atama Juku (Big Brain Academy), both of which have attracted audiences from the nongaming crowd.
Seven DS titles have already sold over a million units in Japan, an impressive feat for a console that's only been on the market for a little over a year. More than half of them were Touch! Generation titles. Nintendogs (1.18 million units sold), Big Brain Academy (1.14 million), Brain Age (1.8 million), and Motto Nou wo Kitaeru Otona no DS Training (Brain Age sequel, 1.54 million) all sold over a million units. The other games that sold over a million were Mario Kart DS (1.54 million), Animal Crossing: Wild World (2.17 million), and Tamagotchi Connection: Corner Shop (1 million).
Trumpeting numbers was high on the docket for Nintendo today. Over the past three months, the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service has received 900,000 unique users and over 22 million connections. Iwata said that Nintendo's goal is for all owners of the DS to try the Wi-Fi service at least once and plans to increase the number of Wi-Fi station terminals located throughout stores in Japan from 800 to 1,000 units by spring. As a new addition to the Nintendo Wi-Fi station, the company plans to offer downloads of games that have been created during its student seminars.
Plenty of new titles were also revealed by Nintendo. This year, the company will release a new version of its Rakubiki Jiten dictionary software, named Kanji Sonomama DS Rakubiki Jiten (Kanji as-it-is Easy Search Dictionary). This will be the second release in the series and will let users search for Japanese Kanji phonetic symbols by simply drawing them on the touch screen rather than having to go through the previous way of searching by stroke counts. The software features three dictionaries from Taishukan publishing, including Japanese-to-English and English-to-Japanese dictionaries, and it has more words than its predecessor.
Another utility announced is DS Bimoji Training (DS Beautiful Letter Training). The software is essentially a tool that lets users practice the clarity of their penmanship. The user writes on the bottom screen, while the top screen shows an example. The DS is held sideways when using the software, making it easier to view the example while trying to mimic it. DS Bimoji Training is currently in development and does not yet have a release date.
Taking the unusual Touch! Generation series in an even more nontraditional direction is Shaberu! DS Ryouri Navi (Talking DS Cooking Navigator). The utility is basically a talking cookbook. Chefs flip through the "pages" with voice commands while the game talks back. The user can input what ingredients are on hand and select a dish that can be prepared or pick a main ingredient (like beef or pork) and sort through a list of available options. No release period has been announced for Shaberu! DS Ryouri Navi.
Aside from Touch! Generations titles, Nintendo also covered a few games that will be released in the months to come. A new Super Mario Brothers has now been announced for a May release in Japan, and Pokèmon Diamond has been reconfirmed for release during the year. A number of third-party games were also unveiled at the conference. Konami's Winning Eleven Soccer series will soon make its debut on the DS and will feature Wi-Fi support. Riding the success of the original, Bandai will release a sequel to the million-plus selling Tamagotchi Connection: Corner Shop. Also, Sega is bringing its popular Mushiking beetle-battling game to the handheld, as well as Oshare Majo Love and Berry, a DS title targeted toward girls.
The press conference also gave attendees a chance to check out the DS Lite, which will be released on March 2 in Japan. With its new DS model, additional upcoming games, and new multimedia extensions, Nintendo has high hopes for its handheld.
"One of our midterm goals [for the DS] is to reach 10 million units [sold] as early as possible," said Iwata during his closing remarks. "The Game Boy Advance took 30 months to reach 10 million units, and the PlayStation 2 took 32 months. Both of them reached the milestone after two and a half years. But with the support of our wide range of DS customers, and with the help of software makers and distributors, our goal is to reach 10 million cumulative unit [sales] as soon as possible."