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Is Nintendo Researching VR For A Handheld Or The NX Console?

At Nintendo's 76th Annual General Meeting of Shareholders, several of the company's executives participated in a Q&A related to Nintendo's current and upcoming products. The answers given by these company representatives point to upcoming VR/AR hardware, and increased efforts by Nintendo to grow its presence in the smartphone market.

The NX Console; Or Not?

According to Nintendo's President, Tatsumi Kimishima, Nintendo is currently researching VR technologies.

"We are well aware that other companies are developing games and game-related products using VR technologies, and that consumers are interested in all of this. I cannot say anything specific at this time, but understand that we also consider VR to be a promising technology, and we are conducting research with much interest," said Kimishima.

A statement by Nintendo's Senior Managing Director, Shigeru Miyamoto, indicated that the company is also conducting research into AR. "As for VR, we are researching not just VR, but AR and many other technologies," he said.

Although this gives the impression that Nintendo's upcoming NX console will incorporate VR technology, it might actually point to another new device being developed by Nintendo. According to the General Manager of Manufacturing Division, Hirokazu Shinshi, the company is preparing to manufacture the NX console, which points to the system being out of the development stage. If the company is still conducting research on VR technologies, then its findings will likely not be incorporated into the upcoming NX console.

"We are now preparing to manufacture NX and hashing out details like the extent of automation. We hope to create the optimal production environment," said Shinshi.

Another statement by Kimishima gives further evidence that development of the NX console has ended, as he said that the company is anticipating sales of the NX console and NX software to make up for declining Wii U sales in this fiscal year. That means that the NX console would have to ship either around Christmas or early Q1 2017 in order to have noteworthy sales figures at the end of this fiscal year.

"While we announced our shipment forecast of 800,000 Wii U hardware, we are forecasting total sales of ¥500 billion for this fiscal year, about the same as last year. I am not currently able to talk about concrete figures for unit sales, but we are planning for NX to make up for falling Wii U sales. Software for NX will also contribute to sales and profit," said Kimishima.

Could It Be A Smartphone VR Device Or Home System?

Although it could be that NX console will use VR technology and Nintendo's representatives are simply being ambiguous to make it less obvious, if Nintendo is truly still researching VR, then it points to another new device in development by Nintendo. There are three likely suspects for what this new device could be: a home console, a mobile peripheral similar to the Gear VR, or a handheld game system.

In truth, we don't know if the NX console will actually be a home console. Everyone expects it will be, but Nintendo has not officially said so. Nintendo previously announced that the NX console is not a successor to the Wii U. If the NX console is not a home game system, then eventually Nintendo will need a new console to replace the Wii U. If the NX console is a home system, however, then it is unlikely that Nintendo is already developing another system targeting the home gaming market.

The mobile peripheral is probably the least likely of the three. Nintendo stated that more than 10 million unique users have downloaded Miitomo (the company's first smartphone app), and that it has plans to release four additional apps for smartphones between now and March 2017. Nintendo's General Manager of Entertainment Planning and Development Division, Shinya Takahashi, also pointed out that the company may develop physical controllers for smart devices in the future. These two pieces of information, however, give the impression that the company plans to keep its presence in the smartphone market relatively limited for the foreseeable future.

"Physical controllers for smart device applications are available in the market, and it is possible that we may also develop something new by ourselves. On the other hand, I believe Nintendo's way of thinking is to look at whether action games are really not impossible (without a physical controller for smart device applications) to create and how we can make it happen to create such a game," said Takahashi.

A Nintendo VR Handheld

It is probably most likely that if Nintendo creates a new VR device, it will be a portable handheld game system as a successor to its 3DS product line. Nintendo previously attempted to make a portable VR system back in the 1990s known as the Virtual Boy. Its existing 3DS line is also several years old at this point, and although it has been highly successful, sales of 3DS hardware and software are currently at the lowest point since Nintendo introduced the system in 2011.

Nintendo's line of handheld gaming devices has also historically been the company's strongest position in the market, often with sales figures more than 40 million units above the company's home console products for the same period.

This fact makes it all the more likely that if Nintendo is working on a new VR gaming device, it is focusing on the mobile market and not the home gaming market.

Until we know what the NX console will be, however, it is hard to say what Nintendo will do with its VR research.

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