Road to a Nintendo OS

In Playing Q' by Santiago ArciniegasLeave a Comment

In the upcoming months, Nintendo will announce its next Console/Device. Codenamed Nintendo NX. Speculation leads to believe that the NX will be both a Home console and portable device, ann all in one solution to gaming needs. United by one thing in common a new cross device compatible Nintendo OS.

Nintendo being the tradition-following type, doesn’t jump into new ideas right from the start. They test them for years before finally deciding to big scale release of a working feature. The following article, takes a look back to the previous attempts at software that compose traditional smart devices os’s in order to understand what is the design philosophy and look for hint of what is to come.

An analysis to support completely geeky and insane fan speculation.

I hate phones. Mainly because I don’t like picking up the phone. I don’t like talking over it. Its awkward, uncomfortable, badly thought and sometimes downright useless in world where there’s internet. I’ve lost friends,  business oportinities, contact with family members because I really despise talking over the phone. This tele-phobia of mine is just one of the social anxieties I have to power through in my everyday life.

I personally never bought a cellphone till 2012; alI previous devices had been hand-downs, specially my mom who thought important there was some way to contact me should anything go wrong. I bought an an iPhone then.  The logic was:  i really enjoy my iPod, If this thing had a “phone app”… i could stop carrying this hedious extra piece of junk being forced upon me.

Fast forward to now, I use my iPhone for a lot of things, edit pictures, chat, listen to music, check Twitter, Tumblr, answer emails, messages. basically everything but make stupid phone calls…
Oh, AND play games. I have Nintendo 3DS for that.

Yet I keep thinking, I came from carrying: an iPod, a cellphone and a DS Lite to just carrying the phone and the 3DS… shouldnt my next upgrade mean that I only have to carry the one thing.

In fact these two things I carry around in my hipster wayu colombian bag already do a lot of the same stuff:


Average Price

  • Photo/Video Camera
  • Multimedia Messaging system
  • Music
  • Internet Browser
  • Calculator
  • Calendar
  • Check email
  • take notes
  • Use Maps
  • Check Weather
  • Clock and Alarms
  • Voice memos
  • e-Book reader
  • News reader.
  • Video Calls
  • Cellular and Data Access

Nintendo 3DS

$170 USD


$400 USD

Additional eShop purchase

If you’ve held 3DS system, it does seem at first glance to be a bit behind to your average Android smartphone feature-wise. it clearly doesn’t replace it. However with the 3DS coming close to the end of its life cycle (almost 6 years now), and new nintendo platform on the horizon can’t help but think, nintendo might be readying their eyes at an actual mobile platform that also functions as phone.

It certainly would be a really unique device. Nintendo unlike most hardware companies, makes toys, not productivity devices while Todays smartphone market focuses on being mini digital pc’s and calculators who also happen to play some games. The selling point relying on capacity, memory, specs, speed and available number apps that can be used. Nintendo’s selling point is a Mario, Miis, Zelda and Pokémon.

Moreover,  Nintendo has made it clear it doesn’t want to complete in what they call a “Red sea” (a saturated market) Of phones, multi media centers and tablets, they want a “Blue sea”, A non saturated mrket, one that you can find only through innovation; they don’t want to build a multipurpose hardware, they want to do toy-like entertaining devices, Nintendo’s hand held is not supposed to be and instrument of productivity but of leisure. They believe software and hardware are to be enjoyed, to be fulfilling and to generate emotional responses. They want their software to be addictive. This means developing takes a while, its also means that speed and specs are relegated to a second stage.  Its not a tool to get stuff done but one to enjoy doing stuff.

We waste a lot of time in our phones. Messaging, chatting and so on are more and more commonly distractions on a phone, than actual productive features. Same is checking up Facebook, twitter. Quickly sharing photos adding filters, etc.  They are all little activities spread across the day to waste time. Add games to those phones  and you have a few more extra distractions for those bus rides and lines at the bank. I think Nintendo would look at all this interactions differently,  they would make the experience of wasting time on a smartphone into a productively pleasurably enjoyable way.

If you look closely they have already been toying for ages with this kind of philosophy. Nintendo has been making tepid attempts at what we would call “productivity” apps for while, they have tried to make their devices do more and also tried to make their utilitarian productivity software experience into engaging and fulfilling one.

Lets compare the utilitarian apps of smartphones against the craft that Nintendo puts on theirs.

The ones

Nintendo camera
Every cellphone now has camera and with services like Instagram, vine, Facebook and Flickr everyone is in the sudden urge of having pictures taken and shared almost instantly. Sometimes even more than I care for.

How Nintendo does it better? not only because it handles 3D photos and is easy to use and navigate it has a parakeet companion! Yeah you can call it more of Nintendo handholding, I call it a necessary and adorable evil in a world where people really don’t know how to take a photo. Its incredibly fast, and has live effects, and you can sort and navigate images easily. You can even do some basic video editing right within the app.  But more importantly… Remember the Gameboy camera? the games, the stickers, the quirks, the printing :P

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What it needs to be complete kick-ass?  Nintendo created the Nintendo image share web service as an after thought, but having it integrated to the app would certainly improve things, after all Facebook integration was part of the DSi camera app. But more importantly no matter how fast or cute the app is, its pretty much useless with the horrible 0.3megapixel camera built into the 3DS. Also there should be a Gameboy camera filter that posts to miiverse!

Sending multimedia messages via internet from a phone is pretty much a must now. You don’t want to be left out of any trendy internet meme or rumor that is the lulz no matter where you are! do you?… o worse can you imagine missing out the sex video for that slutty bitch in English class that some how got “leaked”?

Semi wireless messaging systems for Nintendo handhelds can be traced back to Majesco’s Wireless messenger adapter, which allowed messaging and chat with any other Gameboy advance with the adapter within 4.7 km range.

58editeurs20040515_133618_5_big The feature would be then added to the DS’s core firmware as PictoChat, though it only had a 20 meter range. But added the pen capabilities of the console.

wireless Last year a japanese third party released Minna no Oshaberi Chat, a full featured messaging chat app for the 3ds that looked adorable and  nintendo-esque. Even if it still isnt quite up to standards.


How Nintendo does it better?  They did create the ultimate multimedia message app with Swapnote, for starters it has an interface like I’ve never seen in any app before.. you actually enjoy scrolling around this endless list of messages. Not only that the sequential rhythm embedded into any message created makes it an actual need to revisit old long message over and over again. It lets you share pictures and voice messages but no text, I think as part of Nintendo’s efforts to not let the art of calligraphy die. Sure you at first make the most horrible doodles, but with some practice you gain the confidence to do some pretty amusing stuff. The sad part is that Nintendo gave up on because of concerns regarding proper use (like pictured above),  so right now is street pass only. But I think had this been a 3G app on a cellphone, it would have perhaps been so insanely popular that they would have waved those concerns.

What it needs to be complete kick-ass? The one thing swapnote is not, is a conversation app, in fact for a live conversation it would be cumbersome, however Nintendo has created Miiverse now for that, if they had them somehow integrated with each other, they would have one killer message app.


Having a music player on the original Gaboy was in such high demand that there waa a feature included in some Flash Cart’s firmware. on the GBA Nintendo finally gave us an MP3 player. The PLAY-YAN. And who doesn’t like to shut down society when they are riding a crowded bus, at night when is most evident you are growing desperate and older and your dreams are slowly coming to a monotonous death?

pantallas_mp3_playerHow Nintendo does it better? it makes a game out of it! I mean the PLAY-YAN’ actually included some mini games, and the interface used a character that would move in a stage constructed by your songs in order to select it. The charter could be Mario or Pictogram, or even the PLAY-YAN character that lives on the 3DS. In there  there are also some game-and watch inspired games included in the app that move to the rhythm of the music. Our friend parakeet is also present here and actually is a bit helpful at pointing out we can play with the music we are listening (be you own DJ). Nintendo also noticed that listening to music is be default a socially isolating activity, and decided to put a spin on it. The app automatically searches for random people you encounter and matches  their music to yours, plays matchmaker with whoever you bump to, by telling you how compatible musically you are. Connecting you with some random stranger who loves exactly the same music you do and you crossed paths probably listening to the same song.

What it needs to be complete kick-ass? Having an official way to play DRM protected music would be a plus… maybe having partnership with someone. But that’s asking to much from a gaming company. One can always do as one does right now and use some morally gray tools to import your iTunes library.

The Nintendo DSi had a voice recording app as paid extra download, which was later merged into the 3DS music app mentioned above.
How Nintendo did it better? The voice app had built in editor, filters and such that allowed for some interesting kawaii stuff.
What it needs to be complete kick-ass?  I am not sure, I would need this to record interviews as I am journalist, so the current time limit it has would make it hard to use for that.So I would remove that… but really is the best memo voice app there is and there could be. 
This one is probably the one with most legacy, because since time immemorial, Nintendo has always provided means for its users to take notes on their games… albeit not digital. But I always found it charming that they provided you with extra space on you game manuals to add your own thoughts and reminders.

How Nintendo does it better? If you like hand writing it does that , if not it makes it worse.

What it needs to be complete kick-ass? I always thought keyboard input would be nice… as well as adding some attachments links or images.

The ones they nailed down but are extra purchases.

One of the things that would come as a big annoyance if the 3DS was already a phone, would be the fact that you would have to pay some hefty extra dough for what are already standard embedded apps on all the other mobile OS’s.

EVERYTHING has calculator.. remember those wristwatches in the 90’s… yeah they’ve been everywhere from a long time ago. And I really can’t think of reason you would need one in a videogame console. But if the thing was to be you one device to carry around it might come in handy.

Through the ages third (unlicensed) parties, tried to actually make both the Gameboy Color and the Gameboy Advance into a calculator in the form of full PDA (Personal data Assistant) suits.

There was the Unfortunately named Touch Boy

And the Game Boy Advance Personal Organizer Software.


How Nintendo does it better? Well right now they have two calculator apps available on e-shop, One with a Mario theme and another with a Tom Nook theme.

What it needs to be complete kick-ass? Does it really need any more? Can you get Mario in a calculator on any other device? no. If both were included as a single apps on the phone, you got it covered… though I guess it would be nice if you could convert currency to bells.

Having a full fledged calendar based productivity app is a bit far from what Nintendo does. A calendar view was included in the Wii, and allowed you to post notes on specific future days, and there was also a calendar was included in the DS firmware though it lacked any kind of functionality.

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This has been felt as sort of lacking feature in the DS from the beginning, so it was no wonder a PDA app was actually made as homebrew as DS Organize. Its only functional calendar alternative didn’t come out till the DSi, with Nintendo Countdown Calendar.

How Nintendo does it better? Well… again, they make it more of a game, the app actually is focused on making a countdown of any major upcoming events. Which makes it different from any other.

What it needs to be complete kick-ass?   What really would make it functional would be so you could add a specific time for the event as right now it only marks dates. You also can’t sync with anything yet, that would be nice even if it was just Google, but that may be asking to much for 3rd party cooperation. But if  you could bring the calendar view of the Wii, to the Wii U and have them sync with each other, it would make a very interesting family oriented calendar. Where everyone could collaborate to assign chores, share and remind events.

Every digital device has a clock, and Nintendo devices are not the exception. The original DS and DSi had an alarm clock functionality set up. And the DSi could make use of the Sleep Clock: Record and analyze your sleep patterns. On 2012, Nintendo released a free clock app on the 3ds named: beauty Clock, where hundreds of models posed with signs with each minute of the day and a short video playing every hour.


On the 3DS Nintendo has two clock apps available as separate purchases, an animal crossing clock and Photo clock.

How Nintendo does it better? On one had you have animal crossing apps, which really can’t be topped.  But photo Clock, actually includes photo editing for your alarms, as well as the ability to record and edit your own alarm sounds.

What it needs to be complete kick-ass?   Its an alarm clock, add more Nintendo themed skins and character stickers and you are gold, but if they went full ahead with the time analyzer, using the gyroscope to monitor the dream quality as many iPhone apps do, would be quite beneficial!

Reading books on the Gameboy and Gameboy advance seemed to capture the interest of people and third parties for a long time.  When the DSi XL came out Nintendo released, a compilation of royalty free books for the platform.  And even allowed for the download of more books using wi-fi. For the 3DS Nintendo released an eBook reader partnering with editorial Honto in japan, which allows purchasing and reading children books on the 3DS.

top2How Nintendo did it better? Nintendo made sort of a game based on rating the books after finished reading, which was a always a bit odd given that all were considered literature classics.. so it is kind of fun watching Anna Karenina getting terrible ratings. They also added a questionnaire at the of each book that would guide you to reading books that you would enjoy even more.

What it needs to be complete kick-ass?  Adding a proper store would be the way to go… but that would only happen by collaborating with a third party, like amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

The ones they nailed down on other platforms.

Back when the Nintendo DS came out it had built-in with wi-fi… but somehow forgot that one might like to access the internet with such Wi-Fi enabled device. They later commissioned opera to make a browser. The less is said the better. But nintendo’s adventuring into web surfing dates back to the N64 era, heres a short infographic on its history.

How Nintendo does it better? Right now It doesn’t on the 3ds version of the internet browser its still slow (while faster than the DS one) and incompatible with most scripts and mp4 videos. You really have to visit most of the mobile enabled versions of sites to use them right now its really only good for twitter and that is a slow matter.

What it needs to be complete kick-ass? Be the Wii U browser.  Nintendo has been long trying and mostly failing to deliver quality internet browsing with their hardware. Specially on hand held, speed, resolution and compatibility are real issues, that seem to have been overcome by all mobile industries these day. However, its worth noting, that a lot of people tried to bring internet to TV, Sony, Google, Microsoft, Apple…  and none have managed to make it as good and as usable and fun as Nintendo did with the Wii U Browser.

Having covered the mobile apps already developed we can see most of the basic functions of a smartphone are covered. But as I will develop in further post, Nintendo has a problem with maintaining and keeping their software active a profitable. Some of the apps that are basic in smartphones have been developed by Nintendo for the Wii or Wii U and should just need them ported.

For a couple of years you could have a email address! Which is sort of Nintendo boy fan-gasm, the catch? It wasn’t personal though,  Nintendo would allow each Wii console to have their unique email address but it was accessible through the Wii and to anyone who used the Wii .  It however gives us a glimpse at how Nintendo managed the concept with a Wii Message board.

How Nintendo did it better? The email was sorted by days using the calendar and it was both minimal and clean. It allowed to attach images and links, It looked really nice. If the idea was to share and write to friends this does pretty much it as it also connected with the Wii’s Photo channel to share your images as attachments.

What it needs to be complete kick-ass?  Functionality was limited because it was never intended to be a full fledged email client, It allowed to message only other addresses. So you would have to make it full featured to make it decent. Specially add some sort of boxes or folders for sorting and archiving and maybe even stacking some conversations.  I don’t know if you would want a or at address… if it could manage any pop3 IMAP email address it would be enough.  The focus should be to be able to share what’s been created on you other Nintendo apps, weather its audio, video, or photos. But otherwise  Its hard to think they would do something different than what they did with Swap note, which already does, some type of attachments and drawings.

Nintendo created its first map app in association with Shigesato Ito’s hobonichi  for the Nintendo DS. The map had even an expansion release. Later onn the DSi with the City Transport software for the DSi. It had enough success in Japan, that it was also released in Australia.


There were also a GPS a / Google earth ad on for the Nintendo DS but never came to fruition.

image_32However a full Google maps app was released for the Wii U! which uses the gamepad for motion sensor navigation in street view mode.How Nintendo did it better? The gyro sensor on the game pad which are also available on the 3ds make it fun to make a fool out of yourself .  But I found the use of the Wii fit balance board

What it needs to be complete kick-ass?  I don’t think Nintendo would gain anything with GPS unless there were any significant game franchises that would use it. In any case if they did, adding it to the maps app would make sense.

The Wii tried to add some TV specific  apps that are now found more commonly on mobile devices, such as a Weather forecast Channel and News Channel.


How Nintendo did it better? The forecast channel really was Nintendo to place you in the place of a forecast presenter. It gave you very Fox News-like weather graphics and a world map you could rotate to view the weather all over the world. The app actually looked a bit different in Japanese Wii to simulate the Jana-like weather prediction news segments over there.

What it needs to be complete kick-ass?  The 3ds mobile version these would greatly benefit from the inclusion a Mii reading you the weather forecast. I would even add Siri like voice recognition and have your selected Mii read it for you as a proper forecast expert.

This is the second channel on the Wii that would now be more useful if found on your phone. These one along with the weather app both had the Help cat as tutorial to teach you to use it. A cat I enjoyed making “meow” as the news load.

How Nintendo did it better?The news channel on the Wii, used the AP feed  and geolocation info when available to gather news from around the world and display it again like a news channel globe and a news paper. Though now there are a lot of RSS apps out there none let you navigate them by place on the world quite like this.

What it needs to be complete kick-ass? Just the ability to add your own RSS feed.

Finally we get to the main thing that a mobile device has to do today. Make calls. These come as voice calls and Video calls.

Pretty much since the rise of the cellphones, people have wanted it to be a phone. Back on 2004 the Gameboy advance got the CAMPHO add on, developed by the Japanese company Digital Act, which allowed voice and video calls using the Gameboy advance.

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Not much later the DS would come out and as it included a microphone there was eventually a homebrew app called SvSIP that would allow you to make calls to anyone using the console and Wi-Fi.  Nintendo itself, along with other consoles have been playing with voice calls for their games for a long time. Metroid prime Hunter being the first NDS game that would include voice chat. However the first voice chat dedicated app by Nintendo would be Wii Speak. Wii Speak would allow voice calling between people the Wii and the Wii Speak microphone accessory. Later they would release the Wii U chat app for the Wii U which would Include video.

How Nintendo did it better? Besides having voice mail, the Wii speak device was designed to work in a TV room where more than one person would be around to speak, which means that it would have voice recognition and noise filtering to identify each speaker who would be represented by their Mii, which will lip sync to their spoken words. The app would also allowed users to view photos live and comment on them. making the activity of talking a joined adventure. The Wii U chat video app removed some of this features but added drawing to the live video stream via the game pad.

What it needs to be complete kick-ass?   I’m not a fan of video calls… or calls. Phones are a strange, awkward alien experience to me. Specially with unknown people… and since I’m not the most social person, this means almost everyone in the world. Which is why I would love that Nintendo would make a phone. Its intimate and its really designed to be used with people you know and like. It focuses on spending time with people on the phone rather than on receiving and managing calls. The only thing they haven’t done yet that would satisfy the calling is that is not a multi tasking activity, which should be. On other phones you wouldn’t expect to carry on with a phone call while doing something else… but on a Nintendo hand held you would expect to be able to call anyone without interrupting your Zelda game.

Third Party Support

When we talk about smartphones now we really can’t avoid apps. The windows phone is testament to how a lack of apps really brings down anyone. And with Nintendo’s record of bad relationships with third parties No doubt the main problem would be getting 3rd party social apps. Fortunately   Already most popular media streaming services have a 3ds version, as well as some of the most popular smartphone games. But in my own selfish and completely personal opinion they would need:

  • Twitter

    Nintendo and Twitter have never really partnered on anything. Twitter on the DS and the Wii was available through homebrew at the very early stages. And it works rather ok with the 3ds and Wii U Browser.

  • Facebook

    Nintendo managed to use the Facebook API with the DSi Camera to share the photos taken with it. Which means there is some history there… but as to a full app. It seems rather unlikely, seeing that the one for the Windows Store is still on beta despite the phone being out since 2010. The interest though is also there as a homebrew app also surfaced for the NDS

  • Instagram

    For Instagram we would have the difficulties I would think, since Windows phone also hasn’t managed to get a decent Instagram app on their OS and its also owned by Facebook. but in fact I would not wait for a phone to come out for an Instagram, the 3DS has such a sleazy camera that the Instagram filters would be a welcome addition IMO.

  • Tumblr

    Tumblr is so opposed to what Nintendo does, while Nintendo wants and seeks fun, meaningful personal connections and interactions, Tumblr is so anarchic in its ways. There is really no “Tumblr” etiquette, its doesn’t promote social meetings, or personal connections. The main thing is that its also very highly demanding even on PC’s (if you have infinite scrolling activated) So it runs almost smoothly on the Wii U… but not at all on the 3DS.

  • Feedly

    I couldn’t decide between Feedly or Flipboard, both do a decent job as News aggregators, Flipboard adds social platforms and has that “create your own magazine” going on… which in many ways makes it a really rounded up app in case none of the mentioned above ever comes out. Feedly makes it much easier to add RSS news and can be used on PC’s which is the on I use, but  doesn’t run on the 3DS, though it does on the Wii U. They are both still a considerably small enterprise compared to their predecessor on RSS aggregator : Google reader. So having them on a Nintendo console makes it a bit of stretch.

  • Line

    Finally if none of the above ever came to the Nintendo phone, they would have it made if they secured Naver’s apps and games. They really did what Nintendo should have done, if they had launched to the phone market earlier, they made conversation a cartoon game with stickers, rewards, points, themes, photo editing apps, games, freebies, etc. They own comics and cartoons, Naver apps like LINE have over 100 million users and works like Facebook, twitter and whatsapp together, they have photo editing apps that do what instagram does. They offer email services, news,  a blog service in Asia, they even have an antivirus! In many ways naver is the smartphone’s Nintendo, and one can argue that follow a similar philosophy in their software development. Maybe it’s a partnership that would be too good to be true.


In many ways, Nintendo toyed with things that Smart devices have by default way earlier in the road. and yet they have managed to stay focused on games. The wii was a the first smart TV many people owned. And the Nintendo DS really was a precursor to everything we now call apps on mobiles. Their continuos approach to this digital productive enviroments is always enriched with car, cuteness and inventive gaming in mind. Was there a Nintendo OS being developed to match what smart devices do today, it will no doubt be charming and innovative.

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