Pondering the Potential of an Android-Powered Nintendo NX [Update]

Rumors are pointing to Nintendo's upcoming console going in a completely new direction.

Analysis by Mike Williams, .

Update: Nintendo shot the rumor down with the force and furty of Thor's hammer.

“There is no truth to the report saying that we are planning to adopt Android for NX,” a Nintendo spokesman told the Wall Street Journal.

This is the fourth major time Nintendo has denied rumors. The last three times, reporters were absolutely correct. Nikkei said a larger DSi was forthcoming, Nintendo called the report "speculation", and then announced the DSi XL. Nikkei says a new 3DS is coming, Nintendo denies it, releases new 3DS. Nikkei reports Nintendo is going mobile, they deny it and then proceed to announce a mobile partnership.

So, still a rumor! But Nintendo denying stuff that's happening isn't new for the company.

Maybe Android will be first in line for once?

If you haven't heard the rumor, it seems Nintendo may be using Google's Android operating system as the basis of its upcoming NX console. That rumor comes care of major Japanese newspaper Nikkei and was brought to Western audiences via the translating power of Kotaku's Brian Ashcraft. Nikkei is rather large and austere outlet to be publishing completely unsubstantiated rumors, so while we don't know if this is true, we can at least entertain the idea of its reality.

An Android-powered NX could fit right in here.

According the Nikkei story, utilizing Android for the NX is partially about easing the path of development. "This would be able to speed up getting all game developers on board," an insider is reported as telling Nikkei. That's pretty true, as many developers are already making games for Android smartphones and tablets. Most are programming in Java, which I'm told is a pretty easy language to learn, and support for things like OpenGL, Adobe Flash, and Unity means there's room to expand. Instead of starting from scratch with a wholly-new platform, Nintendo would allow veterans developers to start a few steps into the process.

When it comes to its operating systems and overall technology infrastructure, Nintendo is behind the times. It's operating systems work, but they're pretty barebones and slow in some aspects. Nintendo is improving, but it hasn't been a smooth process and the company has realized it requires some help to release gaming hardware and software in the current generation.

Before you freak out about using Nintendo using Android, it's worth noting that this probably won't be a clear version of that OS. It won't even be a skinned version of the OS, like you'd find on a Samsung phone or Nvidia's Shield devices. Like Amazon or Ouya's version of the operating system, we're probably talking about something far different, a fork based on the same base. Android would merely comprise the foundation of whatever Nintendo would be building. You can expect it to be as locked down like every other Nintendo platform and free for general Android issues like piracy.

Android microconsoles haven't worked out.

We've seen this play before and it hasn't really taken off yet. These platforms tend to come across as media streaming machines that just happen to play games as well. The aforementioned Ouya, the Nvidia Shield, the Razer Forge TV, the Amazon Fire TV, and the GameStick; they've all tried to address this potential market and found little success. Android gaming sounds good on paper, but in reality, it just doesn't have an audience.

Problem #1: The hardware is rarely powerful enough to provide the more robust gaming experiences the enthusiast player has come to expect. For many of these Android gaming platforms, you're working with smartphone tech packed into a non-descript box. A Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and Adreno GPU (or Tegra depending), 2-4 GB or RAM, 16 GB of storage, USB 3.0 and HDMI ports, Bluetooth 4.1, 802.11ac WiFi connectivity, and an Ethernet port. Update the former parts to whatever is the current spec and you have your systems.

I'm theorizing that Nintendo will probably aim a bit beyond this, perhaps with more PC-like innards. Will the company will look to achieve parity with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4? Doubtful as the NX is rumored to be some sort of handheld/home console hybrid and I'm not seeing Nintendo jump back into the spec war anytime soon. Despite their lack of intent, the available hardware technology could put them in the same ballpark.

AMD's processor roadmap from November 2014.

Available ARM and low-power x86 processors will be able to outrun the Wii U soon and hopefully Nintendo will pair that with a decent GPU. That's a big improvement over the PowerPC architecture Nintendo has worked with before. Assuming they stick with GPU-partner AMD, we could be looking at a system-on-a-chip (SoC) from the Beema/Mullins (Puma CPU cores) or Carrizo (Excavator cores) lines. It's simply a matter of deciding if they want to use the notebook or tablet (lower-power) chips in their system. (The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 both use the earlier AMD Jaguar cores.) AMD's accelerated processing units (APUs) haven't been a big hit in desktop PCs, but in consoles, they're potentially a great option.

Problem #2: Not many people want to play smartphone games on a big screen. No one is breaking down the door to play Clash of Clans, Temple Run, or Candy Crush Saga on their HDTVs. Nintendo gets around that by simply being Nintendo. The big draws for the company's past three home consoles have been its own titles, starring familiar faces like Mario, Link, and Samus. On the Wii U, which is underpowered hardware in comparison to its competition, the company has put out some enchanting experiences. Splatoon, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M., Captain Toad, Super Smash Bros, and Pokemon Omega/Alpha are all wonderfully polished and unique games. From a name standpoint alone, Nintendo has the ability to make consumers and retail outlets stand up and take notice. These titles won't be smartphone games on a television screen, they'll be games for the new Nintendo NX.

Nintendo can do a lot with a little.

This even shores up one of the major issues with Android development: Variable hardware. Developers have to plan for a wide variety of configurations, since Android can run on nearly anything. Here, they'd gain the ease of Android development with the power of a single, unified platform. One that's considered a gaming console, not a set-top box.

Where others have failed, Nintendo is liable to succeed. At the very least, the company is poised to leave an interesting footprint. An Android-based console powered by an AMD SoC with Nintendo games behind it is an intriguing option for this market. It doesn't guarantee success for Nintendo, but it does streamline certain aspects of the software development process.

That said, that's just a rumor and this is all speculation. We won't even hear about the NX at this year's E3, so we'll have to wait until 2016 for more information.

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Comments 6

  • Avatar for mr-faramir #1 mr-faramir 2 years ago
    hmmm... well...

    1) android can have a powerfull graphic capabilities though, I read about VULKAN (opengl successor) on android with PowerVR chipset, it was indeed powerful and dont forget NVIDIA's Shield platform that can run Crysis 3 (but, I admit it was using Nvidia in-house AndroidWorks graphic API not a stock opengl ES). so, wether NX will be powerful or not will depends on what NINTENDO wants. I doubt Ninty wants NX to be very expensive. I think NX will have "modest" power for "modest" price.

    2) the next problem was about backward compatibility. Iwata said NDS was not a successor of GBA. but it doesn't stop it from playing GBA cartridge. but the same thing will be a problem for NX because, please correct me if I'm wrong android device needs ARM or x86 chipset. not PowerPC chipset like nintendo past home console. can NX play WiiU games? only time will tell...

    or perhaps its was indeed just a rumour and Ninty approach NX development like they used to do like any other console they made :)Edited 3 times. Last edited June 2015 by mr-faramir
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  • Avatar for nilcam #2 nilcam 2 years ago
    I know GameCube and Wii both ran versions of Linux and Android is based on Linux so this could be true. I'm curious to see what happens.
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  • Avatar for hiptanaka #3 hiptanaka 2 years ago
    Android is great for infrastructure and ease of development, but I've always doubted it as a platform for games. It just doesn't seem to be designed with the right priorities in mind.

    All Android phones I've tried have noticable input latency (swipe to scroll quickly and the page is noticable after the finger). Enough to make me suspect it's an OS problem and not just the touch screen/driver. Also, low latency audio has been a known problem with Android until recently. Ouya didn't make me more positive, with all the complaints about controller latency.

    Now, if Nintendo are considering Android, maybe it means the problems I've seen are not as OS-related as I've thought, or at least that they are circumventable. Nintendo knows games, and they usually care about these small but essential details that have a great impact on games but not necessarily on other software. The low latency of the GamePad screen is a good example. It's less than what most TVs alone introduce. However, there's always the possiblity that there are top-down changes going on at Nintendo that the engineers and designers don't have much say in, and that's a scary thought.

    Edit after update:

    Phew...Edited June 2015 by hiptanaka
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  • Avatar for docexe #4 docexe 2 years ago
    I remember reading something some time ago about the NX being akin to an Android powered tablet or something along those lines, but I don’t think it was actually a rumor but rather speculation/wishful thinking of the writer.

    Now, Nintendo denied this particular rumor about the NX but as pointed out, they have denied Nikkei’s rumors before only for those to be true at the end.

    I don’t really know much about the technical pros and cons, but assuming the possibility of they making indeed an Android powered console, you have to wonder if their particular mix of... well, insanity, ingenuity and plain old stubbornness, coupled with the excellence and brand recognition of their games, would be enough to make them the first successful player in that space.

    It’s not out of the realm of possibility given they could actually have a hook that no other Android console has, but even then, considering the history and pitfalls of the Ouya, the Gamestick, the Fire TV, the Shield, etc. ...Well, it is probably better to be cautious about the prospects.

    In any case, we won’t know for sure what they are actually planning until next year.
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  • Avatar for mganai #5 mganai 2 years ago
    "Available ARM and low-power x86 processors will be able to outrun the Wii U soon"? Maybe on the ARM side of things, but x86 has been light years ahead of the Wii U PPC for ages.
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  • Avatar for pennybags #6 pennybags 2 years ago
    @mganai I don't know what WiiU specs are like really, but isn't that referring to Atom and friends?
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