From the year Nintendo released its first arcade machines, to the advent of the Family Computer, better known as the NES in the West, all the way from the Gameboy to the Switch – Nintendo has primarily been known for its video game consoles and franchises. It’s also well-known for being very protective of its video game properties, as the late Nintendo President Satoru Iwata was adamant that Nintendo games would never be produced or made officially available on non-Nintendo hardware and platforms. Could that be changing?
Despite its previous reluctance to abandon the video game market, the company is no stranger to adapting for a modern audience. After all, Nintendo is over 100 years old, and it hasn’t gotten where it is today without reinventing itself over the past century plus. And with the proliferation of mobile phones and the booming success of mobile gaming in general, including those which – surprise, surprise – feature Nintendo properties like Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem, and even Nintendo’s leading man Mario – I can’t help but wonder if Nintendo might be considering bringing its mobile apps to an exclusively first-party platform like an actual Nintendo Phone.
The idea may not be too far-fetched, in a recent interview, current Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa recently stated the company isn’t really fixated on consoles. He went on to say the company always strives to give consumers new experiences and noted: “We’ll continue to think flexibly about how to deliver that experience as time goes on”, with a heavy emphasis on flexibility.
Nintendo has even gone so far at to patent a phone concept, going back as far as 2001. The patent shows an early 2000s style phone with a decidedly Gameboy-inspired design that has the ability to play Gameboy titles. This proves Nintendo has seriously considered entering the mobile phone industry, but perhaps they were concerned about confusing the phone with their handheld devices like the Gameboy at the time, and didn’t want to dilute their brand by saturating the market with too many hardware choices like Sega had done.
Still, more recently Nintendo patented a product that could convert your smartphone into an actual Gameboy, complete with a transparent window where the Game Boy’s screen would be, along with physical buttons for A, B, the D-pad, start, and select. This looks like more than a phone case or screen protector. And with smartphone giant Samsung already developing a foldable phone, maybe the two companies could partner up to release exclusive content and accessories to allow their products to interact with each other. Nintendo did release a Galaxy-themed 3DS, which could be seen as a playful nod of things to come, and the Japan-based powerhouse has already shown a willingness to co-develop products with other companies and release their IP on other platforms via apps on a limited scale. Their recent decision to allow Xbox Live to take up space on the Nintendo Switch shows an unprecedented level of mutual trust the company hasn’t always been known to show outside entities.
Nonetheless, as cool as a Gameboy-like accessory sounds, many people would love to get their hands on a bonafide Nintendo phone. Perhaps the company is currently in a transitional stage trying to learn the ropes of the industry by testing the water with partnerships – but has bigger plans in mind for the future once they perfect their hardware and marketing strategy.
Many companies and individuals have already offered up their own concepts of what a Nintendo phone could look like. Tech magazine CURVED released a very cool concept for a Nintendo phone that could also double as a more traditional handheld gaming device via controls that slide out form the back. China-based designer Lee Huang also put his skills to work imagining a potential Nintendo smartphone with good results. His designs look both modern, but also have a hint of that old-school Nintendo flavor thrown in for good measure, with different models featuring different characters from Nintendo’s stable of properties. Perhaps these skins could be traded and replaced with other characters and designs like some models of the New Nintendo 3DS allowed in the past.
These concepts give us some idea of what the future could possibly hold. With the success of the Switch, Nintendo is as hot as ever before. Many of us would gladly exchange our iPhones for a Nintenphone if given the opportunity. Yet despite all of the patents and rumors, Nintendo hasn’t officially announced an in-house smartphone. Still, if there’s one thing we can learn from the beloved House of Mario, it’s to never say never.