Chuck brought up a point
with the 3DS US announcement today
that do we really need another handheld due to the prominence of smartphones and the capabilities of the higher end ones to play some games. Ironically, the first thought that came to my mind when I saw that was, yes. Seeing as I'm not really a handheld gamer, love smartphones, and I do have a bunch of games on my phone, I didn't expect that to come out of me.
Let's be honest, people like Chuck or I who love multi-purpose devices aren't the norm. In fact, there are many people who love devices that specify in one single thing. Take for example the sales of the Amazon Kindle. That thing sells like gangbusters because it's inexpensive compared to tablets and it does one thing really, really, really well.
Gaming on the phone, from my experience, is OK. I've bought and played with a plethora of touchscreen games and, yes you can get some good experiences out of them at a relatively cheap price. For me, the best games to play come from emulators though but on screen controls are pretty lacking. A phone with a keyboard such as the Epic 4G or Droid helps out a lot more with controlling the action on the tiny screen.
But for all that a phone can do, a handheld that specializes in games is still needed and wanted by millions out there. For starters, not everyone wants to pay a monthly bill. But John, you say, everyone has cell phones. Why not just roll it into one device? Well, while a good majority of people have cell phones, there's still a good population out there that rely on cheaper phones that aren't restricted to $70+ a month charge or they are on the pay as you go plan. I know of lot of families who have kids that don't have cell phones or use very inexpensive ones and have a Nintendo DS. Right there's a huge population who want a handheld; children.
Also, handhelds offer up a lot better control scheme than any phone out right now including those with keyboards. I've played various games on the EVO 4G and Epic 4G and nothing gives me the precision control needed for games like Street Fighter II or NBA Jam on an emulator unless I pair up a WiiMote to it, although the Epic's keyboard does a pretty good job.
Touchscreens do an OK job with controls, but your view is obscured with your fingers moving around everywhere. Ever see the PSX emulator on a phone? Yeah, a lot of buttons on a small screen. Your fingers can move around a lot depending on the game and can hide portions of the screen that can be important.
The PSP Phone that's been rumored is a step in the right direction, but again, there's a huge market of gamers that can't afford the monthly charges associated with a cell phone. Plus, it has to have great battery life along with being smaller than an average handheld and that means using hardware that's probably going to sacrifice a good amount of performance for power consumption. And speaking of power consumption, if my handheld dies from usage, it's OK. If I can't make a call when I need to because I was busy playing Metal Gear and it drained my batteries, then we can get into some serious issues.
Even with powerful cell phones, it will be a long time, if ever, that it will replace dedicated handhelds. It could happen, but I don't see it for a very long time. There's always going to be a big market for them and Nintendo knows more than us about this in this area.