For you gamer geeks out there, remember Virtual Boy? Virtual Boy was Nintendo’s first foray into 3D technology. Although you were the coolest geek on the block to don the gaming headset (likely modeled after a space helmet), it was a market failure. The concept was fun, innovative and cutting edge, but the bulky headset was obtrusive and annoying. Nintendo is re-focusing its 3D vision with the recent announcement of the Nintendo 3DS handset. The innovator behind the revolutionary Wii is on track to transform handheld gaming with 3D. The best part: it’s without 3D glasses or helmet. While its 1995 Virtual Boy got an F, we anticipate Nintendo has the right user audience, experience and timing to successfully launch a 3D portable gaming device.

Critics, such as Sony’s Director of Hardware and Marketing, John Koller believe 3D is a fleeting trend. “I think it remains to be seen where Nintendo goes with 3D on a portable, having been in the portable space for quite awhile, I think it’s an interesting move but one I’d like to see where they go from a demographic standpoint. 8 and 9 year-olds playing 3D is a little bit of a stretch given where some of our research is right now.” Historically, Nintendo has positioned itself ahead of the curve and thrives on “stretching” boundaries and expectations to reinvent the user experience (think Nintendo Wii). The user audience, experience and timing are perfectly aligned to make the 3DS a game-changer:

Audience
Nintendo’s core audiences is BETA People, or early adopters, who thrive on discovering the latest trends and toying with cutting-edge gadgets. The game developer’s website suggests its target audiences are young, tech-savvy professionals seek Nintendo DSi’s intellectual engagement (e.g. Move Your Brain) and an entertaining experience (e.g. Mario Party). With current features on the DSi, such as real-time image editing (via filters) and audio manipulation, users want to stretch reality. These are the same people that watched Avatar in 3D for its cutting edge approach.

User experience
Unlike Virtual Boy’s ridiculous helmet, the 3DS requires no special “gear.” Users game in 3D without the 3D glasses. “Nintendo didn’t disclose how this would be done but it will most likely be with a screen that has a thin sheet of lenses in front of the main display panel,” writes PC World. Currently, Nintendo utilizes head-tracking technology to generate a faux-3D experience (see below). Regardless of the approach, the 3DS produces the same user experience, only in 3D, without turning the user into an astronaut.

Timing
Historically, 3D has taken a backseat in entertainment — usually the domain of books and premium Disney-world rides. James Cameron changed American’s perspective of 3D with Avatar. In fact, his approach to 3D earned him the number one grossing box office film of all time (taking home over $2 billion). Now, Alice in Wonderland and others tout a fantastical 3D experience. If the film industry is any indicator, Americans are now ready for 3D.

“Nintendo has shown that they are the master of innovation – with the motion-sensitive Wii and touch-sensitive DS leading the way,” writes Game Junkie, Gerard Campbell. While Nintendo’s 3D track record is spotty at best, the game developer is positioned to revolutionize the handheld gaming market. Nintendo touts its new DSi to be the “next step in portable gaming…” for now. Nintendo announced the 3DS will launch sometime before the end of March 2011 and more news would be coming at the 2010 E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles. Until then, critics can speculate and fan boys can dream. Nonetheless, the Nintendo 3DS will make a big splash in the gaming world.