Why Apple Needs 3D in the Next iPod and iPhone

Last Updated Oct 19, 2010 3:34 PM EDT

There are few buzzwords louder than "3D" right now, but there seems to be only one significant tech company not discussing it: Apple (APPL). The recent Game Developers Conference Online in Austin showed that other mobile players are taking 3D, as Andrew Podolsky of the mobile gaming site Slide To Play and other critics have noted.

I've called 3D the most overhyped feature of the year -- because it is -- but Apple is one of the few companies that could actually benefit tremendously from a glasses-free 3D device. Here's why:

Nintendo is aiming for Apple: Based on severe inroads into the mobile gaming market, Nintendo (NTYDO) has already declared Apple enemy number one above both Microsoft (MSFT) and Sony (SNE). Nintendo's odds are actually looking good, too, as its upcoming Nintendo 3DS will have all the significant console hits and a wonderful looking glasses-free 3D screen. In fact, after my hands preview on last summer, I said the 3D effect was enough to make Apple take notice.

The iPod/iPhone family has great portability and versatility with the built-in music player/phone, etc. However, there are some severe advantages that the Nintendo portables have had and will continue to have for the time being:

  • Extremely strong video game brands, including Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda
  • An intuitive button/controller combination (compared to no buttons at all)
  • Respect among hardcore gamers who, on average, spend more on games than the casual folks playing games on their phone or iPod.
Add 3D to the list and, come this Spring, iPod/iPhone gaming could be viewed in retrospect as just a stop-gap between the lackluster Nintendo DSi XL and the Nintendo 3DS.

Android is gaining more market share: As far back as February BNET Wired In columnist Erik Sherman noted that Android was on track to surpass iPhone sales, selling as many as 60,000 per day. The number has only increased.

Apple has succeeded with the simple Henry Ford philosophy, "It's available in your favorite color, as long as your favorite color is black." It fits extremely well with Steve Jobs' "walled garden" goals. However, what Google (GOOG) Android phones lack in stability, they make up for in variety. Phones like the Motorola (MOTO) Droid and the HTC Hero were sold out for weeks after launch, and the trend doesn't seem to be stopping.

More importantly, Sharp (SRP) has already developed technology that makes 3D easier in mobile devices. You can bet one of the many unbridled Android mobile developers, whether on phone or tablet, will be taking advantage of it in 2011, if not earlier.

Apple should stick to what it does best: Giving the user the smoothest, safest mobile experience possible. Adding 3D capabilities would give users a nice incentive to not switch phones.

Users want iPhone on a different carrier: Customers, carriers, and even critics are ready for the iPhone to be available on another carrier -- if not off AT&T altogether. Offering a serious iPhone upgrade, like 3D, would stave off criticism and potentially keep iPhone customers coming to AT&T. If Apple were up for taking a risk, it could even offer a 3D iPhone for loyal AT&T customers and present a modified iPhone 4 to, say, Verizon (VZ) customers if it does cross over.

Photo courtesy of Wootang01 // CC 2.0

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