I'm Not Buying the Nintendo 3DS Rumors We've Been Hearing

Have you heard these rumors about Nintendo's plans for the 3DS, their new glasses-free handheld gaming system?

Just to bring you up to speed, the device launched in March of this year at $249. After languishing on stores shelves for a few months, Nintendo slashed the price to $169 a few weeks ago. I think it's too early to say what impact the price cut has had; certainly there was an immediate uptick in sales but whether that was a blip or the start of a new sustained trend remains to be seen. My personal opinion is that the 3DS isn't selling because the software library is so weak, and over time that situation should be resolved. I expect sales to pick up during this holiday season and beyond.

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Nintendo has announced a conference, to be held on September 13th, which will focus exclusively on the 3DS. I'm guessing this conference will highlight various upcoming software titles for the platform in an attempt to build buzz for holiday buying. But then there are the rumors.

The source of these rumors is French site 01net.com, a publication I'm not familiar with, so I'm not sure how reliable their sources are. The grapevine says they've been a source of accurate leaks in the past. They say that Nintendo has realized they'd made a mistake in not adding a second analog stick to the 3DS. This is the first time I've heard that a missing second stick on the 3DS was a problem, but Cnet says "When the Nintendo 3DS launched earlier this year, its lack of two thumbsticks was cited by critics as a major flaw." Given that many games use a stylus and the touchpad of the 3DS, having one hand on an analog stick, the other holding a stylus, makes sense to me.

Anyway, we'll assume that people are bummed they don't have a second analog stick. 01net's sources say that Nintendo is hard at work on some kind of add-on that will clamp onto the 3DS and give it a second stick, and that it'll cost about $10. They also say that Nintendo has tasked developers to create gaming experiences designed for "two analog controls" (which isn't quite the same as two analog sticks).

I'm somewhat skeptical of this rumor; it sounds too much like a kludge and the Nintendo DS did very, very well without ever having a second, or even a first, analog stick. I don't see the lack of a 2nd stick as being the 3DS's big stumbling point. It may be that they're planning on putting a second virtual stick on the touchpad, a la the virtual sticks on smartphones and tablets. But a piece of plastic you jam onto the 3DS that adds a true analog stick? I'm finding it hard to imagine. Maybe some kind of stick-like add-on that pushes the buttons on the right side of the 3DS? Possibly, but that wouldn't be analog.

An even more unlikely rumor coming from the piece (and even 01net.com seems skeptical of this one, saying they haven't been able to verify the reliability of the source — not the same source as the 2nd analog stick rumor) is that Nintendo is preparing a new version of the 3DS hardware for release in 2012. The new version might sport a new name, would downplay the 3D angle, and is the reason for the price cut of the current hardware (Nintendo is liquidating stock of the current 3DS to make room for this new device, says the mysterious source). That implies that this new version would replace the existing 3DS.

This one I flat-out don't believe. The 3DS hasn't been through a holiday season yet. The software library for it is still embryonic. Early results from the price cut seem promising. It makes absolutely no sense that Nintendo would already be retiring the design. The only possibility that I see as feasible is a new model that eliminates the 3D feature completely, thereby saving a few bucks and putting concerned parents at ease (there's been some debate over how safe the glasses-free 3D is for very young children). As far as I know no 3DS games require that the 3D effect be turned on (the 3DS has a slider to control how much 3D you want, with 'none' being an option) so a 3DS Lite with no parallax screen could be offered at, say, $129-$149 and to be offered alongside the existing 3DS. But even then I think we're speculating wildly.

If I'm wrong (and let's face it, I have been before) then perhaps we'll know more on September 13th. If the snap-on second analog stick is coming, it'll probably be announced then. A new handheld, though? There's no way Nintendo would announce that until early 2012; they're not going to kill their first 3DS holiday season with news that a better system is coming next year, so we'll probably have to wait a while to see how accurate that rumor is.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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