Nintendo's NX: Another Verse in the Company's Love Song to Apple?

The rumored two-in-one console sounds like it takes another cue from a classic Apple computer.

Analysis by Jeremy Parish, .

Originally published October 2015.

Update: Based on Eurogamer's new report, this setup has begun to look increasingly likely.

One of my favorite trainspotting projects over the years has been watching the way Nintendo hardware takes cues from Apple's machines.

Right around the time Steve Jobs returned to the fold in the late '90s and began the push to sell Apple computers on their aesthetics rather than on power or business utility or whatever, Nintendo consoles began to take inspiration from the pioneering computer company... at times, just a bit too obviously.

Sure, many of these similarities boil down to coincidence, but the proof is in the particulars. For instance, Apple began selling computers in a variety of translucent plastic colors...

iMacs aplenty.

And, a short time later, the N64 appeared in the exact same array of translucent hues.

Not totally derivative; they did add "Smoke Grey." Source: SmashBoards

Of course, lots of hardware makers at the time jumped on the iMac candy- and jewel-tone plastic bandwagon. But then Apple launched the iBook, a low-end portable computer, in two varieties: Silvery-white with translucent orange, and silvery-white with translucent blue.

The original iBook, which was more akin to a beefed-up Newton than an actual computer.

Not too long after that, Nintendo unveiled its new portable console, the Game Boy Advance, in two varieties (neither of which ultimately shipped): Silvery-white with translucent orange, and silvery-white with translucent blue.

SpaceWorld 2000 prototypes of the GBA. Sources: Mindtribe, OoCities

Then Apple released a computer shaped like a tiny, compact cube...

The G4 Cube—expensive and underpowered, but a wonderful piece of industrial design. Source: Deskpicture

...which was followed soon after by Nintendo's next console, which took the form of a tiny, compact cube.

The GameCube.

(The GameCube also followed in the G4 Cube's footsteps by being a bit of a flop.)

Then there was the all-white iBook G4....

The latter-day iBook G4, which was an actual working computer. which the original DS Lite bears a remarkable resemblance. Not just in terms of the colors and lines, but also the very specific and rather unique construction they shared: Sleek white plastic laminated to a thin transparent polycarbonate shell that lent the devices both extra durability and a sort of gentle luminosity.

DS Lite. Source: Giant Bomb

And hey, there's no faulting Nintendo's tastes in inspiration here; if you're going to look for design cues, why not look to the global leader in consumer electronics design? On top of that, it's a fitting union in other ways as well: Both Nintendo and Apple have always stood apart from their competitors by operating on their own terms rather than taking the reactive approach of other companies in the same space. Plus, both companies tend to do incredibly well or else fail spectacularly.

I hadn't thought about these parallels in a while, but all the recent discussion of the Nintendo NX—the company's next console, or whatever it turns out to be—stirred a memory. It sounds as though the NX is coming along quite nicely and could very well debut within the next year. That puts a pretty tough deadline on Eiji Aonuma's team to crank through the next Zelda game (which doesn't even have a title yet), but it's also incited a lot of speculation and innuendo about the form the NX will take.

The running theory, one that's been batted around for several years now, is that the NX will bridge the divide between Nintendo's console and portable spaces, effectively serving both roles. The idea would be that the NX would consist of a central unit that works like a handheld device, which can then be anchored to a television to work as a console, potentially benefitting from a boost in power or visual output capabilities.

It's an interesting idea and basically would work like a reverse Wii U: Where that system uses its tablet-like portable element as an accessory to the console's power, the NX would theoretically use the tablet equivalent as the heart of the system, using the television-bound component as a dock. Potentially brilliant, but also complex—several people I've spoken to have had a hard time wrapping their heads around the concept. But it's not so hard to understand; once again, all you need to do is look to Apple for Nintendo's precedent here.

Source: Wikipedia

Back in the early '90s, Apple produced a laptop called the PowerBook Duo. The computer itself was remarkably humble; in an era where computer makers worked vigorously to cram as much hardware as possible into laptops, the Duo stood apart for its apparent deficiencies. While it shared the same rugged, shell based on Sony's revolutionary design for the PowerBook 100 as the rest of the PowerBook line, the Duo had a smaller screen and lacked certain niceties, including the all-important diskette drive. In effect, it was a stripped-down PowerBook, trading away power and features in favor of a compact size.

What distinguished the Duo 210 and its successors from modern bare-minimum systems like the MacBook Air was the fact that the Duo's limits weren't defined by its innards. Rather than include a disk drive, it featured a custom docking port that allowed it to plug into a special desktop housing capable of expanding its potential.

Source: MacWorld

The DuoDock essentially resembled a desktop PC minus a processor. The CPU's role was served the Duo laptop, which could plug into the DuoDock and turn the shell into a fully functional computer. Not only did this grant Duo users potential access to a full-sized keyboard, a proper mouse, media drives, and more, it also expanded the capabilities of the Duo. The DuoDock included a separate graphics card that allowed the laptop—whose native screen was relatively low-resolution and limited to greyscale—the visual features of a proper computer, with better pixel resolution and full color.


In short, this is precisely the hardware model being talked about as the format Nintendo purportedly plans to use for the NX. And it's a great idea. How great would it have been if the cramped New 3DS version of Xenoblade Chronicles had been a game you could plug in to a dock to enjoy the same game, except with the visual sheen of Xenoblade Chronicles X? Forget crossplay or Transfarring (R.I.P. Kojima Productions); this would be the same game, played on the same system, but with features and visuals appropriate to its current format? If NX does take the Duo approach—and I hope it does—it would be, in effect, the Wii U concept done right. And, of course, it would be one more checkbox for my ongoing Apple/Nintendo parallels list.

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Comments 29

  • Avatar for seejamsrun #1 seejamsrun 2 years ago
    I really wish we'd gotten the colors on the prototype gba. The blue one was just too good looking.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #2 Captain-Gonru 2 years ago
    Hmm. I hadn't thought much about the Apple parallels in regards to the NX discussions (of which I've been doing plenty of over in the Nintendolife comments).
    Which is exactly why I love coming over here. I get a string of thoughts I wouldn't have normally had.Edited October 2015 by Captain-Gonru
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  • Avatar for jihon83 #3 jihon83 2 years ago
    If this is the general idea, I am all for it. Especially to note that one reason I would have jumped on a WiiU never emerged: crossplay. If I could have played DS and 3DS games on the WiiU, I would have hopped on both, given my preference for gaming at home.
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  • Avatar for AlxndrNevermind #4 AlxndrNevermind 2 years ago
    Wow, I had never thought of that idea for the NX, a very unique guess. Given the similarities noted, and Nintendo's history to care more for capturing a different audience than that of their competitors, I think your comparison is apt. That really has me excited, albeit we know nothing at all about the NX at this point save for a few rumors. I am very interested to see how, hypothetically, they could expand on cross-play and multiplayer ideas in games. And for the record, when is the next Nintendo Direct??? There is too much news to be addressed about mobile, Fall/Winter 2015, and Spring 2016 games for there to be so little information out of Nintendo.
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #5 SuperShinobi 2 years ago
    A more recent example is the 2011 Motorola Atrix smartphone, which had optional multimedia dock and laptop dock accessories. While they didn't boost the phone's power, they booted into a Ubuntu-based "webtop" OS, which was more suited to desktop use than Android.

    It's an interesting concept, but it has significant drawbacks. If you rely on the handheld device alone for the processing power, it will never be competitive with desktop / home console type devices. But if all the processing power comes from the dock, it raises the question of why do you need the handheld device at all? In that scenario the handheld becomes just an accessory, like the Vita sometimes is to the PS4.

    A third possibility could be to bundle the handheld device with the home dock and make the handheld unit mandatory for home users, by making all the games run from it, but taking advantage of the dock's extra hardware (like a second GPU or hardware space for example) when plugged into it. The problem with that would be the cost, as it would require manufacturing and simultaneously selling two devices to consumers.

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  • Avatar for amightysquall958 #6 amightysquall958 2 years ago
    The Apple/Nintendo relationship does seem quite apparent when presented in this way. Plus the theory about the NX as a portable system with a dock is plausible....too plausible. My question is, if Nintendo truly intends to move closer towards the performance standards of Sony and Microsoft as they have stated (obliquely), then how will that inform the design of a portable/set-top hybrid.

    I have been agonizing over when to dive into the 3DS pool, but if the NX proves to be the "portable" successor, I may wait a little longer yet.
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  • Avatar for amightysquall958 #7 amightysquall958 2 years ago
    @SuperShinobi Having extra juice in the dock would require developers to build two (hot?)swappable builds per game to adjust to the hardware differences. That seems like a huge headache to me.
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  • Avatar for jeffcorry #8 jeffcorry 2 years ago
    I get excited for the NX, but I try to be cautious. Because...well...this is Nintendo. I LOVED the Wii U idea, and I love the Wii U in action, but reversing the role of the gamepad and the HDTV connection would be BRILLIANT in my opinion. I would love to have a truly portable Wii U, with all the guts in the gamepad and it being able to send a signal to an HDMI receiver of sorts.
    ...and since I am "wish-listing" I would also hope that backwards compatibility will extend AT LEAST as far as Wii U's does (poor Gamecube needs some love...), as well as provide compatibility with all the current "Wii-motes" and accessories lying around for Nintendo's gadgetry.
    Great article, and a great comparison to Apple.
    I'm all for them going some of that route.
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  • Avatar for docexe #9 docexe 2 years ago
    The idea of a handheld/console hybrid like this is appealing to me and would fit perfectly into my lifestyle, given how much time I spent commuting on average. The idea of say, playing a console level game on a handheld while on the subway, then seamlessly continue with it on my home by plugging the device into a dock connected to the TV is appealing to me in that respect. Admittedly, it’s reminiscent of what Sony tried to do with the PS3/PS4 and Vita convo, but that one never really took off.

    That being said, thinking about it from a realistic perspective, I wonder how feasible it will be for Nintendo to actually produce a system like this one. As@SuperShinobi and@amightysquall958 state, there are some significant snags in terms of processing power, software programming and price, for not talking about other issues like battery life and media storage.

    I suppose we will have to wait till Nintendo actually reveals the NX to know for sure what shape the console will take, but in the meantime, given the points made by the other commenters, I think the best course of action is to temper my expectations.
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  • Avatar for themblan #10 themblan 2 years ago
    Brilliant article. Also the 'Wii' name is basically Nintendo taking Apple's 'i' brand of products and putting the 'i' at the end. Also, 'we' is a pronoun, just like 'I.'Edited October 2015 by themblan
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #11 Tetragrammaton 2 years ago
    Problem with the theory: Nintendo has said repeatedly since announcing the NX that it's not a hybrid. I think one of their rebuttals even used the word "hybrid" preceded by "NX is not a".

    Now, I don't know WHAT form the NX is going to take, and it's months if not years before I'm going to put down money on one. But I CAN read the timeline of Nintendo's Apple flattery, and Nintendo always borrows from what Apple's lineup looks like at the time. Apple is not making dockable devices.

    Apple WAS making smartwatches.

    NX is a (Game 'n') watch, you heard it here first!

    EDIT: Oops, I should say that I think the NX will not be a hybrid device. I think it's going to share an operating system and hardware philosophy between set top and handheld console.Edited October 2015 by Tetragrammaton
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  • Avatar for kerobaros #12 kerobaros 2 years ago
    For what it's worth, the iBook wasn't a Newton laptop. That was Apple's eMate 300, which looked pretty similar. The iBook was a Mac with a PowerPC chip inside it. A friend of mine in college had one which he affectionately dubbed "the Tangerine Toilet Seat".
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  • Avatar for Spectreman #13 Spectreman 2 years ago
    This helps Nintendo in the problem of supporting two different systems. But I think that building a good account system and transforming the VC in the Netflix of classic games is more important.
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  • Avatar for manny_c44 #14 manny_c44 2 years ago
  • Avatar for ytsejames #15 ytsejames 2 years ago
    GameCube's resemblance to the G4 Cube was just a coincidence. Both were shown publicly for the first time within one month of each other, the G4 Cube in July 2000 at MacWorld Expo and the GameCube in August 2000 at Spaceworld. One month to design and prototype isn't enough time.
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  • Avatar for sobo89 #16 sobo89 2 years ago
    @Captain-Gonru Usgamer publishes fewer articles than other sites, but I read more full articles here. Good stuff. Edited October 2015 by sobo89
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  • Avatar for mobichan #17 mobichan 2 years ago
    As a consumer, this sounds kind of cool. As a developer, it sounds like a nightmare. Unless Nintendo provides some sort of level-of-detail-all-in-one conversion solution (which is doubtful) the developers will essentially be building 2 different games with the lower spec device limiting what the higher spec device can do. Case in point: PS Vita.
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  • Avatar for jeremyparish #18 jeremyparish 2 years ago
    @kerobaros Ah right, my mistake. I got those two mixed up.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #19 link6616 2 years ago
    I really like the docking concept a great deal.

    So much so I actually lived it for a while thanks to the PSPgo, and a TV with a pretty customizable zoom option. playing some FFIV on the bus, waiting for classes at the uni, and then hopping home, turning on bluetooth, and holding the screen button down (I never said it was seemless).

    Although, while I kind of live this experience again thanks to owning a vita and vita TV, it's also a pretty annoying solution at times.

    In fact, whenever I could, I have loved solutions like this, even though I MOSTLY play games on my handheld, sometimes I just love playing on my TV too.

    I think though nintendo have said the NX is not a hybrid but 2 devices? Which is interesting and awkward. For the short time PS3 and Vita were the tag team pair it was kind of cool, but the few bigger titles that did this were frankly not that impressive and the vita performance while fine, always appeared clearly to be a downgrade, and it was clear those games were not running as they would like (compared to things like gravity rush and uncharted which looked they they were always supposed to look like that)

    However, if they can get something like two devices, one plays in 720p the other 1080p, and they are around the same spec level as the PS4 or one (which at this point, is probably possible on a handheld level if we only need to push 720? Although battery life is the killer here).

    Although even if it is around the same specs, it's around the same specs as 3 year old consoles, which is less late into the race as the Wii U was but a simmilar position...

    Anyway, as someone who loved the versaility of the Wii U (which was the only way I was going to sink any time into DQX) I am hopeful nintendo can pull off something equally great.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #20 Captain-Gonru 2 years ago
    @sobo89 As do I. It makes for a nice change of pace.
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  • Avatar for shawnbuis48 #21 shawnbuis48 2 years ago
    On the topic of how to pull this off... scalability. With a number of games utilizing Unreal 4 Engine and their "supreme scalability" perhaps that is how Nintendo can push games from a handheld to a set-top device. They just have to figure out a way to auto-scale the engine. That would be a revolutionary under-the-hood development that consumers would not notice so much as developers.
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  • Avatar for K-JJ #22 K-JJ 2 years ago
    Interesting. I'd not noticed the hardware similarities before.
    I did always think that the original iPhone's UI, pages of apps you can flick between, took some cues from the Wii's TV channel UI!
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #23 jeremy.parish 2 years ago
    @shawnbuis48 Yeah, that was my thought, too. I think this would be a non-trivial task, but presumably Nintendo would have the sense to provide the necessarily libraries and documentation to guide devs through the process.
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  • Avatar for victorehunter #24 victorehunter 2 years ago
    @seejamsrun I was lucky enough to grab the blue one from here:
    They go really quick when they restock and they're a bit pricey, but now I've got the GBA I've wanted for fifteen years.
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  • Avatar for Flojomojo #25 Flojomojo 2 years ago
    I'm happy to wait and see what Nintendo actually shows. They're too off the wall to predict with any accuracy. I'll eat a gameboy color if NX is even remotely similar to a PowerBook Duo!
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  • Avatar for SevenBones #26 SevenBones 2 years ago
    I have always been interested in the parallels between Nintendo and Apple so it's nice to see an article that defines these similarities a bit more closely then other articles. As for the NX, rather then the portable/console hybrid being touted around I'm more partial to the theory that it will be two separate systems, both portable and console. Both consoles will share games through the use of the Nintendo Network ID similarly to how the iPhone, iPad, and the upcoming Apple TV thing can share apps through the iOS ecosystem.
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  • Avatar for Thumbscar #27 Thumbscar 2 years ago
    I love how technology can get creatively iterated on and remixed over time. Sure you can look at images and dismissively say it's just copying, but both of these companies allow their previous projects to inform what they do next, just as much as they experiment and set lasting trends. They take risks, fail sometimes, and are so interesting because of it.

    When I first started using the GamePad, it surprised me how much its functionality felt a bit like the experience of using a GBA to play and control a Gamecube game, only really suped-up. As much as the GamePad was attempting to sell by capitalizing on the tablet functionality, and flubbed it, it never felt like a tablet. To me, it feels like a Deluxe GBA XXL. I think it's pretty cool.
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  • Avatar for mattcom26 #28 mattcom26 2 years ago
    I like the idea a lot. Add a mix of must-have games, a beefy virtual library and backwards compatibility, and the Nintendo could be looking at a game changer worthy of the NES.
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  • Avatar for stevesalvérius11 #29 stevesalvérius11 2 years ago
    Interesting article. Though you forgot to mention Nintendo's love letter to Apple's ipad with the Wii U.
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