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...
And, a short time later, the N64 appeared in the exact same array of translucent hues.
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.
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.
Then Apple released a computer shaped like a tiny, compact cube...
...which was followed soon after by Nintendo's next console, which took the form of a tiny, compact cube.
(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....
...to 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.
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.
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.
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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