The 8-Bit Nintendo Phone

The idea of a Nintendo phone, initially proposed by Moises Chiullan and Horace Dediu on episode eighty-three of The Critical Path, has continued to gain traction in my mind since I listened to The Analyst Taxonomy. As Moises pointed out in the tail end of the show Nintendo, like Apple, possesses the capability to not only manufacture physical devices, but to create the software necessary to run them as well.

The last Nintendo device I used extensively, the Gameboy Advance, immediately jumped out as the perfect example of the company’s synergistic nature: the device was physically excellent — as the countless hours I spent tapping those deceptively durable buttons and staring at that curiously wonderful screen can attest to — and the underlying software made for an exceptional user experience. Granted, Nintendo’s hand in creating the user-facing elements of the Gameboy Advance’s software experience was likely negligible; however, Nintendo’s more recent contributions to the gaming space — the Wii, for example — demonstrate at least a competence in this area, if not some level of excellence.

These were the ideas that Horace and Moises’s discussion set into motion, and the set of ideas that lent further credence to the notion of an “8-Bit Nintendo Phone”, as I called it in this post’s title. I used “8-Bit” to mean a number of things not actually connected with the textbook definition of the phrase. First and foremost, I used it as a way to hearken back to the days of the Gameboy Advance where the quality of the device’s design and software left an exceedingly positive and lasting impression on me. More than a nod to the glory days when Nintendo was the dominant portable gaming platform though, the phrase belies a mantra demanding simplicity in both hardware and software, a philosophy that would set the Nintendo Phone apart from the incumbents in all areas. After several years of growth and development, an unconventional approach is exactly what a company whose sights are set on the smartphone market must have in order to differentiate its product and achieve success. And as we saw with the massively successful Wii, Nintendo is one of the few companies willing to discard the norm and approach problems in novel, unconventional ways.