Can the DSi Become the Portable Wii?S

Millions of people picked up a video game controller for the first time because of Nintendo's Wii. Can the Japanese game developer now conquer the pockets of those same freshly minted gamers with its latest portable console?

The Nintendo DSi, which hits North America on April 5 for $170, comes with a touch screen, two cameras and the ability to store pictures, music and downloaded software on a memory card.

But what is most fascinating about the latest iteration of Nintendo's DS is the company's plan to make the DSi not just a gaming platform, but a personalized piece of a person's life as invaluable as a day planner or a cell phone.

Built into each DSi is the ability to purchase and download software directly to the device through a DSi Shop. And those bits of software won't just be games, they will be the types of programs that can help turn a DSi into "My DSi."

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said recently that he could see people buying a Zelda Calculator, an Animal Crossing Clock, route maps of various cities or maybe a simple game like Tetris through the service.

The idea isn't just to make money through a slew of micro purchases, but to make the device so personalized that people carry it around with them more often and are less willing to share it with friends and family.

"Hopefully, each person's personality would be reflected in their DS and they wouldn't be able to take their hands off it," said Nintendo's Masato Kuwahara, in a recent public discussion with Iwata. "It would be great if it became so integral to them that if they accidentally left the house without it in the morning they would hurry back to get it!

"Since you can save your own photos, you're sure to want your own console, rather than, say, share your big brother's."

A recent survey showed Nintendo that while there are an average of 2.8 DS users per a household that has a DS in Japan, each of those homes only have 1.8 DS consoles in them. Iwata and company hope to get that number up by making the DSi so personal to its users that more people will want to buy them.

That's the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that drove the creation of the Wii and turned it into the video game powerhouse it is today, chiefly among an audience that never before gamed.

Looking over the DSi, there are quite a few traits the two now share. Like the Wii, the DSi has a Home menu of sorts that updates to show gamers which game is currently in the device. It also has non-gamer friendly built-in applications for playing with photos and music. And, like the DSi's downloadable digital clocks and calendars, some of the Wii's most successful titles are the ones built on simple ideas, like losing weight or playing tennis.

Nintendo seems to realize that for the DSi to become as popular as the Wii it will have to serve more than one role. Where the Wii can serve up weather and news and act as a sort of family bulletin board, the DSi will have to become as invaluable outside the home.

Well Played is a weekly column about the big news of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.