Nintendo mulling Kindle-style 3G-network portable

President Satoru Iwata says a DS successor could be cartridge-free, get its games directly from cellular network; service cost to be included in up-front price.

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Last month, Sony introduced the PSP Go, which can only play games digitally downloaded from the PlayStation Store directly or via a PC or PlayStation 3. Now, one of Sony's main game rivals is hinting that it, too, may be looking at a digital-download-only portable--but one that will do so directly using the same 3G wireless network as cell phones.

Could the Kindle's business model be the future of portable gaming?
Could the Kindle's business model be the future of portable gaming?

Speaking to the Financial Times, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said his company was eyeing a system similar to that used by the Kindle reader. Owners of Amazon's device can download thousands of e-books directly via a 3G wireless connection. The cost of the wireless data transfer is included as part of the Kindle's price, which is $259 for the 6-inch 2GB Kindle 2 and $489 for the 9.7-inch 4GB Kindle DX . The highest-profile gaming device to offer games via wireless connections is the iPhone, which Apple has been actively touting as a competitor to the PSP and DSi.

"I'm interested because [the Kindle is] a new business model in which the user doesn't bear the communications cost,” Iwata told the Times. "Only people who can pay thousands of yen a month [in mobile phone subscriptions] can be iPhone customers. That doesn't fit Nintendo customers because we make amusement products."

That said, Iwata is also wary of how much a future portable's price would be increased due to the absorption of wireless communication. He cautioned, "In reality, if we did this it would increase the cost of the hardware, and customers would complain about Nintendo putting prices up, but it is one option for the future."

Iwata's comments come just days after he caused a stir by admitting that sales of the Wii console--now with a worldwide installed base of 56 million--had "stalled." That remark was prompted by Nintendo's latest earnings report, which saw its six-month profits fall 52 percent on slowing sales of both the Wii and DS. On Thursday, the company unveiled the large-screen DSi XL, the fourth revision of the DS since its introduction in 2004. As of September 30, combined sales of the DS, DS Lite, and DSi exceeded 113 million units.

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