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Escapist Friction: Nintendos DSi XL’s Digital Reader Potential

Nintendo’s massive DSi XL has been making the rounds in Japan since November, but in light of its upcoming Q1 release in North America and Europe, it’s a good time to examine its potential beyond allowing gamers (myself included) to get a better look at their Pokémon.

Shots demonstrating the device’s new scale (which I’ve modified using some Scott Pilgrim content) show off its theoretical potential as a comic book reader and I really think Nintendo has an opportunity to turn some heads. That is, if Nintendo ever chooses to pursue it.

North American comics and manga are already available online and as DSi Ware downloads to an extent, providing readers with a familiar, book-like viewing orientation or a traditional dual screen view. So far, however, the comic book offerings remain less than expansive.

The relatively robust manga offerings in the system’s native Japan are a given, but provided Nintendo expanded its operation with broader content in more locations, the company could have a chance to compete with PSP’s successful comics initiative on an international level.

It wouldn’t be a hard sell given the device’s healthy screen size. Most digest-sized comics play in the 5 x 7.5″ range, with the DSi XL providing a roughly 4.25 x 6.5″ reading area when held in its gaming orientation. It’s PPI isn’t as sophisticated as most conventional e-readers, but that’s a challenge content providers could surmount with the right modifications. iPhone comics have proven that reformmatting traditional comics is extremely viable and I think the same could be done well on the DSi XL.

An even more appealing attribute is the DSi XL’s price point. While it’s certainly not direct competition for Apple’s upcoming entry-level iPad’s ($499 USD), coming in at an expected $200-250 price tag, the DSi XL has similar multi-tasking potential for younger and more casual users.

With healthy hardware, an able distribution system and a sizable potential audience, Nintendo should not pass up the opportunity to brand itself as an affordable means of comics consumption for gamers of all ages on the DSi XL. Nintendo would have to spend some money promoting the service, but the company’s risk could mean big rewards for the comics industry at large.

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