The Nintendo DS launched in Japan on December 2, 2004. Just 15 months later, on March 2, 2006, Nintendo released the Nintendo DS Lite, a far supiorior device with an improved screen, battery and design. The gap in the US between the original DS and the DS Lite was slightly larger, about 18 months, but it was still pretty short when you consider the normal lifespan of handheld devices.
Which brings us to the Nintendo 3DS, a device with a lot of promise, but with plenty of room for improvement. In my feature on whether you should buy a Nintendo 3DS at launch, I suggested that most people should wait until the software line-up is a bit stronger. And, if you wait long enough, you might just find yourself buying Nintendo's unannounced but inevitable redesign instead. At the North American launch of the Nintendo 3DS, I spoke with Reggie Fils-Aime, the President and COO of Nintendo of America, about this dilemma and whether consumers should be worried about having an obselete device in less than 2 years.
"It's interesting. We haven't even sold the first one and consumers are asking about what's next," chuckled Fils-Aime. Given the company's past preference for redesigns, I'm not surprised he's been asked this before. "I answer it this way. The 3DS is our key handheld device. It is going to be our key business driver for the balance of this year, through the holidays."
"What I would also say, if the consumer has a concern, buy it here at Best Buy because they've got a great program where you can essentially buy some insurance to make sure your product isn't obsolete. Not that the Nintendo 3DS will ever be obsolete! But certainly it's not something that consumers need to be concerned about."
Best Buy does indeed have such a service. You can buy insurance for your 3DS for $25 extra at checkout. This allows you to trade back the 3DS after a certain amount of time and get a boosted level of credit. That trade-in credit lowers over time, so if you trade it in after 6 months, you'll get 50% back in credit (or $125). If a 3DS update comes in the same amount of time as it took the DS Lite to release, between 12 and 18 months, the trade-in value of your original 3DS drops substantially to just 30% of the purchase price (or $75). But don't forget that you already paid an extra $25 for the insurance, so really your trade-in value for your year-old, $250 handheld is just $50. Yikes.
Fun fact: the Nintendo DS Lite trade-in value on Amazon's used games site? The same $50. And that's 5 years after the device came out. So, if you do end up buying a new Nintendo 3DS at Best Buy, don't buy the insurance.
But where does this leave folks wondering if a 3DS update is coming? The question isn't so much if but when. After all, Nintendo's penchant for releasing redesigns of older devices has resulted in a major influx of sales. That being said, the earliest I could see a 3DS redesign coming would be the 2012 holiday season, and even that might be a stretch. Beyond the battery, there's not enough wrong with the current design to justify a whole new device in less than 2 years. So, if you do have a brand new 3DS, enjoy it. It's likely to be around for a while.