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

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

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

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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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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