It's been a rough year for Nintendo's 3DS handheld. After launching at a "pricey" $250, followed by a game drought and by an emergency price cut to $170, the 3DS has managed to sell nearly twice as many units than its successful DS predecessor within their respective one year birthdays.
Whether you like the glasses-free 3D or not, the numbers don't lie: the 3DS is selling. Nintendo's official figures put the 3DS at 4.5 million sold in one year versus the 2.3 million sold in the DS's first year. Mind you, that's in the U.S. Additionally, the 3DS managed to move over 9 million pieces of software in its first year compared to the 5 million that the DS managed in the same time.
We can look at these numbers and learn three things: 1) the drastic actions Nintendo took to turn the 3DS around were a success 2) Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 gave the system a major boost and 3) the death of portable gaming due to smartphones/tablets is greatly exaggerated.
The latter is what Nintendo and Sony should both care about the most. Strong gaming handheld sales justify both company's reasoning for building new portable hardware focused on gaming.
In January, Sony Computer Entertainment of Europe president and CEO Jim Ryan told MCV:
"One of the encouraging things about 3DS' sales performance at Christmas is that it is confounding the naysayers who say that there is no room in the market for a dedicated handheld gaming device."
Of course, Sony isn't whole-heartedly rooting for the 3DS. Ryan's statement points at successful 3DS sales as a good sign for PS Vita demand. In fact, Sony seems rather satisfied with the PS Vita selling 1.2 million sales globally since its launch in Japan in December 2011.
How things will shake out when the iPhone 5 or iPad 3 come out has yet to be determined, but for now, Nintendo seems safe. People still love the company enough to shell out $40 for a game instead of just $1 for Angry Birds. It just needs to keep the software flowing. With a little luck, the 3DS could even surpass the original DS's global sales if it keeps going like this. That moment is still a way's off, but it's reassuring to know that dedicated portable gaming devices are far from on the decline.