The DS: Under the Radar, Above the Moon

Every time Apple makes any announcement about the iPhone, whether it’s new functionality or sales numbers, the internet goes abuzz. Rumour mongers, Apple blogs and tech sites make a lot of noise. The mainstream press follows suit and everyone everywhere hears how great the iPhone is and how successful it is and how sexy it is. Apple does a good job of marketing itself in this regard.

Now, I’m not about to rag on the iPhone — I like it but I don’t own one, though I do have a an iPod Touch and I make use of the App Store — but I do see all these numbers and press releases from a slightly different perspective. It’s not from the point of view of a PC user, I made the switch and bought a MacBook last spring, but through my hardcore in-the-trenches gamer goggles. This perspective doesn’t in any way diminish what Apple has accomplished, but it does put Nintendo’s successes in a new light altogether.

The recent news is that Apple sold almost 7 million iPhones in the quarter, outselling the Blackberry, which puts them close to the ten million sold number for the year. There’s a lot of “told you so” coming from the Apple camp — Apple fanatics are adorably annoying when they get any shred of success — and it reminds me of the Nintendo DS (Nintendo fans are equally cute.) Obviously, the products are very different, focusing on entirely different demographics and users, but they are both portable consumer electronics so certain comparisons are apt.

While a quick perusal of mainstream news and business sites will reveal a number of stories about the success of the iPhone, the same search will show little about the Nintendo DS. Maybe Apple is the more mainstream story with broader consumer appeal. Maybe the fact fact that Nintendo is a Japanese company factors in a little bit. Maybe the iPhone is just plain sexier and the DS has that whole “gamer” stigma attached to it. Maybe it’s seen as a child’s toy and not an adult product. Whatever the case, unless you are a NeoGAF member or a seriously invested follower of the gaming industry, it’s hard to know what is going on with the DS. The mainstream news doesn’t notice that little Nintendo device. It should.

The iPhone has sold around 9 million units this year. In the same time, the DS has sold around 18 million and it still has the massive holiday season ahead of it as well as a new SKU in Japan (the DSi). It has quietly (relative to the buzz around the iPhone) sold nearly 90 million units in total. Is there any doubt left about the mainstream appeal of videogames?

  • It’s also worth mentioning that the PSP, (wrongly) considered a “failure”, has sold on par with the iPhone: around 9 million on the year.
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