Even though Nintendo is still in a distant spot behind the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in system sales, it’s giving a decent push to the Wii U as of late, behind a forthcoming E3 showcase and the recently released Splatoon, which is performing quite well. However, it’s already begun planning ahead for its next piece of hardware, the much-rumored “NX” console system, which will likely be revealed during 2016’s E3 event.
All Nintendo has said so far is that it’s working on new hardware, and more details would be released in 2016. However, some interesting rumors have emerged, indicating that Nintendo could be taking an interesting turn by basing its new hardware on a version of Google’s Android operating system.
Forbes published a story indicating that Nintendo is heavily considering using a version of Android as the operating system for its new console, based on a report from Japanese newspaper Nikkei. Nintendo, as usual, had no comment on the rumor. Android has already been used for consoles like the OUYA and Amazon’s Fire TV, and more recently Google’s new Android TV initiative is resulting in consoles like the Nvidia Shield. So it’s not a difficult feat technically, but such a move would mark a huge change for Nintendo. The company has always created its own operating systems for its proprietary hardware in the past. That’s an enormous amount of work, and it’s getting increasingly difficult as hardware becomes more sophisticated with a broader feature set. Moving to Android, which is freely available for use by any manufacturer, could have multiple benefits for Nintendo.
With adoption of Android, Forbes’ Dave Their believes that developers would return to make games for Nintendo again – a move that would be a huge boost for Nintendo considering the overwhelming abandonment of Wii U hardware by third-party developers. While Android-based consoles haven’t performed well in the past – OUYA is having such struggles that it’s looking for an independent partner to invest in it – Nintendo could easily change that, given its previous strength in the console market. With Nintendo’s recent deal to bring many of its popular properties to mobile devices (with the help of its partnership with DeNA), there would already be a base of Nintendo games on Android. More importantly, perhaps, using Android at the core of the NX hardware would make it far easier for developers to create games for the hardware.
Mashable recently posted an opinion piece provided more details on how that might work. Said author Adam Rosenberg, “it’s more expensive to develop cross-platform games for Nintendo’s console as s result of that hardware divide. PlayStation and Xbox are both based on the present standards in personal computing, but the Wii U is not. That’s why Nintendo’s robust library of first-party games isn’t complemented by familiar favorites like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed.”
“A switch to Android isn’t without its benefits for Nintendo, however. It’s a much more online-connected platform than anything the company’s ever released, for starters. There’s already a (long overdue) unified account system coming, allowing users to carry one profile across an entire family of Nintendo devices. And an Android-powered machine could be the first step for that,” he continued.
Rosenberg brought up more popular examples of popular Android-based games on the Nvidia Shield, such as Borderlands the Pre-Sequel and The Talos Principle – properties that Nintendo is sorely lacking on the third-party front. “Android is the headline name here, but the real news lies between the lines of this rumor: a hardware shift is necessary,” he concluded. “Google’s OS depends on the same ARM architecture that PlayStation and Xbox do, so PowerPC – the real obstacle for the Wii U in this hardware generation – has to disappear.”
Clearly, one of Nintendo’s biggest problems with its current hardware has been the slow pace of new releases, both from Nintendo itself and from third-party developers. For the NX hardware to succeed, Nintendo will have to make more games appear more quickly. Moving to Android could convince many developers to give Nintendo another shot, as it would be far easier to develop for than previous Nintendo hardware. Of course, much would depend on exactly what form the NX hardware takes, its features and pricing, and the degree to which Nintendo decides to enable and support third-party development in general. Android by itself isn’t a magic wand, but if true this is certainly a step in the right direction for Nintendo.
We’ll see what surfaces for Nintendo come next year. In the meantime, its line-up at E3 2015, consisting of StarFox, Mario Maker and other titles, should be quite impressive. And we might just get a glimpse of its mobile line-up as well…