For UK technophiles, today is a red-letter day with the launch of two new pieces of hardware. The iPad 2, the follow-up to the now iconic tablet, will go on sale in Apple Stores around the country, while gamers will be eager to get their hands on Nintendo’s 3DS, a new version of the manufacturer’s big-selling handheld console.
Although similar to the first iPad, Apple’s new machine boasts greatly improved processing speed and a much slimmer casing, as well as two cameras for video conferencing. It will be available in 16, 32 and 64GB variants, as well as Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi and 3G. The price for a basic version of the iPad 2 (16GB and Wi-Fi) is £399, the same as the current iPad, with the most expensive version (64GB, Wi-Fi and 3G) priced at £659.
Nintendo’s new machine represents a far greater leap from its predecessor, with the 3DS offering three-dimensional visuals without the need for 3D glasses. This means the on-screen action now has genuine depth, alongside a raft of new features, including a 3D camera for taking pictures, Wi-Fi connectivity and the promise of 3D content via broadcasters such as Sky and Eurosport.
Nintendo recommended a retail price of £229, however, retailers keen to cash in on the inevitable demand have slowly pushed the price down since January, with Morrisons currently offering the machine on pre-order for £187.
DS consoles have sold in excess of 140million units worldwide since its first incarnation back in 2004, making it the second most popular most popular gaming console ever launched just behind Sony’s PlayStation 2 (150million). Apple too has done some business with the first iPad shifting more than 15million units worldwide since it launched in April last year. However, both manufacturers have faced uncertainty leading up to the launch due to a proliferation of rival tablets for Apple and the popularity of game-capable smart phones for Nintendo.
According to Matt Hill, Deputy Editor of T3 Magazine, smart phones represent a serious threat to the 3DS, especially as games on the phones are so much cheaper than the £20 to £30 consumers will have to pay for a 3DS title. “Compare the 3DS launch title Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, which retails at £30, with Super Street Fighter IV on the iPhone and iPod Touch, which retails at £5.99. The former is a much better gaming experience, but is it 400 per cent better?”
A glasses-free 3D experience is the console’s big selling point but other manufacturers are not far behind with LG due to launch the similarly auto stereoscopic 3D-enabled Optimus mobile handset next month. Nintendo are quick to point out that pre-order sales for the 3DS have trumped those for any previous launch, suggesting to them that the competition from phones is negligible.
According to James Honeywell, a marketing Manager for Nintendo, smart phones are very different products from the 3DS.
“The strength that we have is the quality of the software. You can’t get the kind of software we’re offering on any other device. That’s what drove consumers to buy the original DS.”
He does, however, admit that pre-orders have exceeded all expectations “The numbers have been very surprising. We will have sold around 120,000 3DS units in theUKbefore it even launches.”
For perspective, the Wii sold 60,000 on pre-order while the DSi (the 3DS’s forerunner) sold 80,000. The price war between retailers is one possible explanation for the pre-order bonanza. As Honeywell states: “we expected some movement in the price, but no the steady decrease from the initial announcement in January. Ultimately it’s great for the consumer.” Yet there’s also the huge inherent appeal of a new piece of technology, especially one so targeted at the young.
The iPad 2 is a slightly different proposition. Though it does offer gaming, alongside myriad other uses, it is a machine targeted an older demographic, which is reflected in the price. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a similar “shiny” appeal as the 3DS, but those who bought the first iPad might not be as willing to part with another £400 for a bit more speed.
For Hill this remains the problem for the iPad 2: “The dual-core processor is much quicker and it’s aesthetically a much nicer machine, but that’s about it. So it depends how much consumers really need to have the newest, most beautiful gadget around.”
Some commentators have suggested that Apple is launching on the same day as the 3DS to show their intent within the gaming market, but for Hill this doesn’t make sense. “It’s a coincidence, nothing more”. Honeywell disagrees. “It’s near to the end of the financial year. It’s a good time to launch a product.”