Handhelds: The Next Console Generation

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by: Bruce Everiss

If anything, handheld game consoles are more interesting than home consoles. They are undergoing rapid technical change, there are more companies involved and everything happens at a more rapid pace. Also the potential is far bigger, the Nintendo (OTCPK:NTDOY) DS has sold more than the Nintendo Wii and the Sony (NYSE:SNE) PS3 and the Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox 360 all put together. Once again this is all supposition and conjecture.

Firstly, the Sony PSP. This has been a success as a media player but it makes no real money for Sony. It has failed as a game machine due to piracy and so is a broken business model. Sony desperately need to bring out an all new replacement with a touch screen and no UMD. It may well come from their phone division, there have long been rumours of a PSPhone.

Ultimately they will want a handheld that integrates with PS4 and with Sony Home. Of all the players Sony have the core competences to win. They are already in the phone business and the games business, so it is mainly a matter of integrating existing expertise.

The Nintendo DS is on the way to being a broken business model. They are losing customers far faster to the R4 than they are gaining them through selling more machines. The new DS Ultralite model due this year will not fix this problem. They need a new machine with a different philosophy towards content. They know this, they have the expertise and they have the development funds. Expect the replacement for the DS to be a very special machine indeed.

Microsoft is following a well thought out grand strategy. Some people think that Zune is just an excellent me-too MP3 player. It is far more. Expect successive generations to evolve phone and gaming features. This will ultimately be an Xbox Live machine and will integrate even more with Xbox 3 so you can carry your home gaming experience with you. Microsoft have already admitted this by saying that XNA will work on Zune in the future.

With iPhone and iPod touch Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has created excellent portable gaming machines, and this has not happened by accident. We are headed for an age where recorded music is free, so Apple is looking for new profit generators for iTunes. We are currently at the beginning of a gold rush as the major publishers race to own space on this platform. With regular new generations of machines, you can be sure that Apple will bring the gamer more and more to the forefront. This is where the money is.

Then there is Nokia (NYSE:NOK). By some measures this company alone is bigger than the games industry. So in the handheld gaming market they could exercise enough muscle to blow the others away, if they wanted. And they seem to, they had their fingers very badly burned with nGage Mk1. Yet they have just come back for more with nGage Mk2.

This time it is a software standard, and this time it will run on a lot of phones. If they wanted they could put it on more phones than the combined capacity of all the other players in this market put together. So potentially this could be the biggest... but then I thought that about nGage Mk1.

As you can see it is a complex situation and anything can happen. So it probably will.