Nintendo is making some lofty promises to investors as its gaming business fails to meet expectations, including an eventual push into the fitness market.
The summary from Nintendo's third quarter earnings briefing is heavy on hand-waving about the future, but light on specifics. Strangest of all is Nintendo's plan to offer "non-wearable" health technology over the next 10 years.
Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said the company wants to build a platform for improving quality-of-life, and refers to this business as a "blue ocean" of opportunity. At the same time, Nintendo says it's not interested in smartphone applications or wearable technology, with Iwata dismissing those markets as "exceedingly crowded."
Instead, Nintendo wants to differentiate through "non-wearable" features enabled by hardware, but Iwata didn't really explain what that meant. Is Nintendo talking about motion-tracking technology similar to Kinect? Some sort of monitoring tool built into refrigerators and other everyday objects? It's really anybody's guess at this point. All we know is that Nintendo wants to use its entertainment chops--and potential tie-ins to gaming products--to keep people engaged.
While Nintendo deserves credit for not blindly charging into the existing mobile and wearable fitness products, Nintendo will inevitably compete with more established companies as they build out their own platforms. Nike, for instance, doesn't just sell a fitness wristband; The company offers apps for tracking fitness across many devices, and has even waded into non-wearable technology with a training program for Kinect. Whatever field Nintendo wants to be in, companies like Nike and Fitbit can move into it with years of experience and customer support under their belts. In lieu of specifics, it's hard to know how Nintendo can compete.
Nintendo got a little more specific about the smartphone plans it's been teasing lately. While Iwata still says Nintendo won't port its games to mobile devices, the company has a small team of developers working on mobile applications. Iwata said he's not putting limits on what these developers can do, "even not ruling out the possibility of making games or using our game characters."
Still, Iwata stressed that Nintendo is not simply releasing Mario games on smartphones. The goal with smartphones is to bring more attention to other products, so the result could be something as simple as a way to learn about Wii U and 3DS games, or an informational app on classic Nintendo characters. Iwata also talked about improving usability through smartphones, for instance by letting people purchase games via their phones or tablets.
This may be new territory for Nintendo, but it's nothing that the competition hasn't been doing for years. Android and iOS are filled with supplemental apps and spin-offs of popular console games, and both Microsoft and Sony offer companion apps for their respective consoles. Again, without any details, there's no way to tell whether Nintendo is doing something new or just playing catch-up.