blog.asurroca.com my personal blog

June 25, 2006

Nintendo DS + Opera = The Real Mobile Web?

Filed under: technology — Alfonso Surroca @ 2:50 pm

The gadget community is abuzz with the news that the Opera web browser is coming to the Nintendo DS, but have we really thought about the implications yet? With this, Opera and Nintendo are making the DS much more than a simple gaming system.

Let’s talk about the mobile Web.

Right now, the most common way to connect to the Internet on the go is via your mobile phone. It costs a small fortune in bandwidth charges, it’s still not exactly lightning fast, and even with a good phone with a great screen, the WAP browsing experience is nothing like what we expect from a real computer.

Take a high-res pocket PC turned horizontally, and the experience is markedly better; add a Wi-Fi hotspot, and you’ve got broadband speed at a fraction of the cost of cellular, plus the touch screen and stylus makes things a lot easier than navigating with your phone’s joystick and command buttons.

Still, let’s face it: The only people walking around with a good pocket PC device are business people and gadget lovers. Which means that by bringing a legitimate pocket-sized web browsing experience to a device as ubiquitous to non-techie “commoners” such as the Nintendo DS, Nintendo and Opera will be really opening up the mobile Web.

Bringing it to the masses

The DS, especially the DS Lite, is a very portable device, and for what it is–let’s admit it–is cheap. Now, for the price of another DS game (probably $35 by the time it hits the States), it will become the cheapest, easiest way for the average consumer to access the Internet. Thanks to the deal Nintendo has with Wayport, you can connect to the Internet on your DS for free from thousands of locations, most notably a lot of McDonalds. Go ahead, type in your zip code and see how many free hotspots there are.

This means that wherever you are, chances are that you’ll be moments away from a hotspot. This means that you can park outside a McDonalds or other Wayport hotspot location, fire up your DS, and within seconds connect to the Internet on a screen that’s actually big enough to get things done.

Until the telcos quit fighting and we start seeing metropolitan Wi-Fi access everywhere, and portable tablet PCs become common enough to drop to a price that the average consumer can actually afford, the Nintendo DS with Opera is as close as we’ve gotten to the dream of completely mobile Internet access.

Musing about the mobile Web

As I’ve said, the majority of the buzz has been about the Opera web browser and the DS itself, not what their combination will mean for us in the future. In cases like this, I like to think up a scenario. For example, I’m sitting at a local cafe which, like many of them these days, offers free Wi-Fi Internet access. Currently, using my laptop, I can pretty much accomplish any task that requries Internet access. Of course, a laptop isn’t truly portable.

If I’m not really feeling the cafe’s choice of music, I can whip out a pair of headphones, pull the DS out of my pocket, and go to pandora.com and log-in to listen to my own personal radio stations instead. If I wanted to check up on some information on an upcoming school assignment or send a message to a classmate, I could quickly check on my Facebook account. I could use an AJAX instand messaging client like Meebo to send a quick message to a friend instead of fiddling with my mobile phone and text messaging. I could check my inbox, read a few quick blog posts or news articles, or search for some business listing on Google Local instead of calling directory assistance on my mobile and blowing a dollar.

Those are just a few examples. Some of them you could sort of get done on your cellular phone and its teeny WAP browser, but as I’ve explained, the price for cellular Internet access is not attractive. Also, Joe Consumer probably doesn’t need to be as constantly connected as gadget geeks like myself. Of course, given the target market for the Nintendo DS, I could easily see a teenager checking Myspace (or whatever supplants it in the future) on his DS and jumping at the opportunity to do some superficial browsing. Personally, I know I’ll be using it to look up phone numbers or business addresses, or check movie times, because these are things that I know I should do before I leave the house but always manage to forget.

I’m just hoping the DS Lite with Opera will mean that I’ll never regret leaving my laptop at home.

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