Spong is making some predictions this weekend with claims that Nintendo will amaze the world with the sudden introduction of the next product in the Game Boy line at next week's E3. They cite Nintendo's ability to keep secrets as the reason why this is so as well as retail mumblings to expect a product launch later this year. One has to wonder how Nintendo can improve the Game Boy Advance's abilities at this point. Spong speculates about a built-in wireless adapter or built-in Play-Yan multimedia device, but for Nintendo to launch the next Game Boy and not just the next Game Boy Advance iteration one would think the company would have to have something major up its sleeve.
Existing precedent makes the masses point to a portable GameCube. After all, if the Game Boy Color was like a portable Nintendo Entertainment System, the Game Boy Advance is like a portable Super NES, and the Nintendo DS can crank out titles similar to that of the Nintendo 64, then moving up to a GameCube portable is the next logical step in this pattern. The GameCube discs are certainly small enough to fit into a portable device. Is the technology needed to play GameCube games on-the-go cheap enough for the masses at this point? Is it cost effective for Nintendo to manufacture such a device and could it live side-by-side with the Nintendo DS? Splitting your own customer base with superior versus inferior technology is a pretty stupid thing to do (just ask Sega about their 32X / Saturn debacle). I don't believe that Nintendo is ready to unleash a portable GameCube on us just yet. Personally I'm hoping that such a gadget will arrive one day, but the time is just not right.
So what could Nintendo be planning?
If Nintendo is looking to take a whack at the PlayStation Portable with the next Game Boy then they'll have to have some kind of music and movie capability built into the unit. There's your Play-Yan. My thought is that you, the customer, will provide your own content in MP3 or ASF formats and hopefully how you do that and what you'll be allowed to play on the Play-Yan is also up to you (the controversy regarding ripping your own CDs and DVDs is well known by now and I don't expect Hollywood to line up right away to release new content on the Play-Yan's SD cards). Expect more of those Game Boy Advance video game paks with cartoons for the kiddies as well. Wireless multiplayer is a good bet as well, and Nintendo has been very boastful that the Game Boy line is backwards compatible, so that's something else to consider.
As for the gaming side of things, here's my prediction: the next Game Boy will produce Nintendo DS graphics on a single non-touchscreen display. This way Nintendo gets to milk the Nintendo 64 lineage a little longer and can start porting all those classic Nintendo 64 games to the next Game Boy. Here's the kicker: who wants to bet that such a device would have an analog stick? A lot of people were puzzled over Nintendo's decision to exclude an analog stick from the Nintendo DS. I'm betting this is why they made that decision. While the Nintendo DS is darn good at emulating the Nintendo 64 experience with it's analog-like touchscreen, the next Game Boy will hit nostalgia right on the nose by reproducing the original N64 experience with an analog stick and either camera buttons or a camera stick of some sort along with the expected A, B, and Z buttons.
At this point you're probably wondering how Nintendo can expect to blow away the PlayStation Portable's graphics with refined Nintendo 64 technology. Well, I don't think they can. I also don't think that they need to do so. Nintendo has had a lot of success and made a lot of money over the years by aiming not for the best visuals, but for the best gameplay experience. If Nintendo were to release this gadget along with an expanded The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that included a new dungeon or two as a launch title, Nintendo fans everywhere would snap one of these new units up (and then in two years they could add a backlight and a clamshell design and we'd buy them all over again).
The Spong article also mentions that the Nintendo DS will receive some major re-branding towards the casual gamer and the PDA market, setting the stage for add-ons that will allow the DS to browse the web, send e-mail, and so on. Now Nintendo's "third pillar" idea starts to make sense: a home console system for the house, a Nintendo DS for people who mainly want to have portable online access and then maybe play a game or two, and a new Game Boy for the more game-oriented portable system customer.
Again, these are just my predictions as to what Nintendo plans to show the world at E3 in just a little over a week from now. Normally I despise unfounded speculation, but in this case all of the pieces seem to fit. One final thought: if Nintendo is planning to spring the next Game Boy into the spotlight along with a new focus for the Nintendo DS, it would explain why the company hasn't announced plans to show every aspect of the Revolution home console. As they say, always leave them wanting more.