Apple in Hot Coffee

Could the company’s present fanbase be pulled away by Project Cafe?

By Adam Sorice. Posted 05/03/2011 16:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Masthead photograph of a steaming cup of coffee

Sometimes, procrastination can be a wonderful thing. Okay, it can cause issues when making toast or completing essays, or reading books because you need to write essays about them, but except in those three very specific circumstances, procrastination can be wonderful. Because sometimes when you put off and put off actually writing an article, something happens in the wider world that just completely makes it for you and reinforces your arguments perfectly. It simplifies your line of thought and makes your ideas better than you ever could alone. This article (although it may not read like it) is one of these blissful moments in life. Allow me to explain.

It’s Versus Apple week at Nintendojo and so, we’re surprisingly talking about Apple and all their products, their growth in the gaming market and the risks they pose to Nintendo as a competitor in the console wars etc. You get the deal. The original concept for this article was to discuss how Apple risks losing its massive (instantaneously gained) audience if they don’t consolidate their customer base before a rival company seeks to take them back. And then (and here’s where that serendipitous coincidence kicks in) Nintendo announced/leaked/ a brand new console, which features a substantial, tablet-like controller and can allegedly send content to this tablet-like controller to make it a whole little console on its own. And the article was in the bag.

iPhone 3GS promo shot

The parallels are obvious. Nintendo clearly checked my writing notebook and took it as a sign that they had to fight back against the rising power of Apple’s gaming experience and nine days later, subtly leaked a wealth of rumors about a brand new console they had just dreamt up. A console to take on Apple and, perhaps more importantly, beat them at their own game. So we’ll crack on.

Apple has a lot of players on their systems. While Wii has converted octogenarians and yummy mummies alike to take up imaginary bowling and imaginary going-to-the-gym-in-your-living-room, it’s perhaps the computer giant that has shifted the plateaus of gaming most this generation. Their appeal is perhaps even wider than Wii or DS and most crucially, you can’t ever escape their content. All types of people are drawn to the likes of the iPod Touch, the iPhone and the iPad, from teenagers to businessmen to trendy hipsters, and even if gaming isn’t an interest for them, they’re still carrying about a gaming device with them everyday. Anytime they venture onto the App Store, games are mixed in with other content and now with such low prices and ease of purchase (especially compared with the lackluster digital distribution portals for Wii and DS) video games will eventually permeate their lives in some form.

And it’s worked, unquestionably. The stupefying success of games such as Angry Birds only goes to show that in a very brief space of time, Apple has made itself a force to be reckoned with. Globally, these pose a far greater risk to Nintendo’s dominance of the handheld market than Sony and further advancements by the much-loved company could see a shrink in Nintendo’s profits. But is it likely? No, not particularly. For all of the millions of players Apple has, very few of them have any brand equity in the iPhone system when it comes to gaming. Most of its success has been down to being in the right place at the right time and, to give it the credit it deserves, Apple’s masterful use of the iTunes Store to push multimedia content to its customers. But do these customers enjoy gaming on Apple products for a specific reason? There’s nothing that comes to mind, no particularly exclusive franchise or unique feature that can’t be replicated elsewhere to stop an equally or even more tempting gadget from pulling these customers away from Apple.

Cue Project Cafe. My knight in shining, theoretical armor. While the rumors circling around Wii’s successor tell of a machine capable of graphically out-powering the PS3 and 360 (which, in fairness isn’t that impressive considering the age of these machines), many commentators seem to be overlooking the potential for Cafe to also become a leading player in the tablet computer market. Mixing the ergonomic, user friendly interface of Wii and DS with the company’s brand equity in technology that interacts with users’ daily lives and add the potential for streamed content, you get something that could make a stand against the likes of the iPad in a real way.

Promo shot of iPad racing game being played
Sure, gaming on an iPad can be fun. But is it Mario Kart? No.

And while it doesn’t immediately sound like Nintendo’s style, they have been known to be incredibly successful at moving in on developing markets and going on to champion them. Even looking at motion controls, perhaps the company’s biggest conceptual success to date, the idea was initially brought into the industry via Sony’s Eye Toy peripheral before being taken over by Nintendo, who has managed to become market leaders via the concept. Last week Sony announced their own tablet computer; could we be seeing history repeating itself?

While the challenges facing a Nintendo tablet may appear great (the lack of a viable operating system and presence of a whole controller anchored into the screen seem to be the immediate ones, but I’m predicting that these appendages will be removable to de-bulk the mammoth controller), the company has made wackier decisions in the past. And if there was ever an opportunity to beat Apple at their own game, this would be it. The key factor for any plan is subtlety; no one will steal Apple’s super casual fanbase by pandering and shoving things in their face. But a cheaper tablet that offers movies, music, a decent internet browser and a few touches of app-esque offerings that just happens to play Mario and Pok√©mon may prove a real competitor to the iGeneration. A video game console that isn’t a video game console; something that just fits into your life as and when you need it. The center of your technological world or just a brief addition if you need to kill a few minutes. Almost like a cafe, no?

While Nintendo’s codenames have long just caused confusion and ire within the gaming community (Project Dolphin, why you no make sense?), I believe that Cafe could tell us something about Nintendo’s next dream machine. At the very least, it’s a word that means a lot of things to a lot of different types of people; could that be a hint to the potentially diverse appeal of this new console? We’ll have to wait until E3 to see exactly what Nintendo’s brewing.

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