Are Apple and Nintendo Headed for Mortal Combat?

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Nintendo DS Nvidia Tegra

Will the sequel to Nintendo's DS handheld video game system include a tilt sensor to one-up Apple's iPhone? Signs point to yes, says an inside source at a developer who claims he's laid hands on one of Nintendo's super-secret 'DS2' development kits, and that he's extremely impressed.

According to CVG, an insider at Nintendo affiliate The Pokemon Company (responsible for the eponymous franchise, including the games, films, and TV shows) had a chance to fiddle with prototype DS2 hardware.

His preliminary verdict? "Genuinely the best thing [he's]...ever worked with."

"I can tell you that it's got a 'tilt' function that's not dissimilar to iPhone, but does a lot more," he said, though he cautioned that Nintendo told him it was still early days for the product.

The iPhone uses a basic accelerometer that's capable of tilt-sensing but little else. Could Nintendo's DS2 add more sophisticated stuff like shock and vibration detection? Pedometer-like capabilities for sport-related activities? Image stability to let you snap crisper pictures? Gesture or tap recognition through light clothing to let you perform simple tasks like switch out music? Process multiple axes (like Sony's SIXAXIS gamepad) for higher-fidelity controls in racing or flying games? Employ dual accelerometers--one in each screen--that let the screens themselves somehow interact in new ways?

Moreover, doesn't this sort of technology place Apple and Nintendo on a collision course? Nintendo's fond of reminding us it makes devices to play games expressly, while Apple's quick to bracket its technology in terms of "lifestyle solutions," where games are just one of several blips on the company's mobile radar.

But as motion-sensing and touch-based functionality in these devices overlaps and the desire for device consolidation grows, locking horns seems more like a "when" than an "if." Whether Nintendo steps up with iPhone-like functionality or Apple simply rebrands its iPhone and iPod Touch as 'DS-killers' and markets to a younger demographic, I think we're on the verge of a showdown instigated by natural market convergence.

As for Nintendo's so-called 'DS2' with tilt sensor and Nvidia Tegra graphics chip, don't look for a GDC 2010 reveal, or even an announcement by E3 this summer. Not if whatever developers are presently fiddling with is just a first-phase prototype.

Besides, Nintendo's in no hurry to retire its economically bulletproof DS. Apple's upcoming iPhone refresh probably won't add any groundbreaking new game-related features, and the iPhone's worldwide install base remains a fraction of the Nintendo DS's 125 million-plus.

Connect with Matt on Twitter (@game_on)

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