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Tuesday, March 23, 2010, 06:30 am PT (09:30 am ET)

Nintendo aims to counter Apple with new portable 3D gaming system

Nintendo surprised the gaming world this week by preannouncing a glasses-free 3D successor to the Nintendo DS, a new portable platform that the industry leader hopes will fend off surging competition from Apple's iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

Nintendo released few details on the new platform, temporarily dubbed the Nintendo 3DS, in a press release issued on the company's Web site. More details will be delivered in June at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, the annual gaming industry convention in Los Angeles.

The Nintendo 3DS is scheduled to launch during the company's coming fiscal year, which ends March 31, 2011. The system will also reportedly be backward-compatible with existing Nintendo DS and Nintendo DSi games.

The Nintendo DS is the best-selling portable videogame system of all time. It has shipped more than 125 million units since it debuted in 2004. But minor hardware revisions from Nintendo have not been enough to prevent the growth of the iPhone and iPod touch in the mobile gaming realm.

This week, it was revealed that Apple's mobile devices had taken a 19 percent share of the mobile gaming market. Apple is now estimated to control 5 percent of the revenue in a $10 billion industry, thanks to the popularity of the App Store.

Apple could be poised for even more growth in the future, with its forthcoming iPad multimedia device also allowing access to the App Store. And because the mobile marketplace is dominated by games, Apple has been testing titles on the iPad leading up to its April 3 launch.

Nintendo has not revealed how the 3D visuals will be achieved without special glasses, though head-tracking through an integrated camera is likely the simplest option. The method allows a system to track the position of a user's head with a camera and adjust the image on the screen accordingly.

For its part, Apple has submitted patent applications pertaining to 3D head-tracking technology. An implementation in Mac OS X described by the Cupertino, Calif., company could allow greater interactivity with a computer.

In addition, in 2008, Apple applied for a patent on new display hardware that would employ autostereoscopy to produce 3D, viewable without head gear or glasses. Apple also, in 2008, revealed details on a possible 3D user interface for Mac OS X. And the company has also shown interest in a 3D gaming controller for the Apple TV.

A different kind of virtual reality, known as augmented reality, has proven popular in various applications for the iPhone. Made possible with the release of iPhone OS 3.1, the display of markers and content over live pictures from the iPhone camera is made possible through the use of the autofocusing camera of the iPhone 3GS and its built-in compass. With them, the phone is capable of recognizing the direction the phone is facing and getting a detailed look at a subject to tag it with information.

Last November, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said his company faces a "dark" future if it cant differentiate its platforms from competing mobile devices like the iPhone. After the iPad was unveiled in January, Iwata was said to be "totally unimpressed" by the new platform.

In 2009, some of the biggest names in game publishing brought well-known franchises to the iPhone and iPod touch App Store. Franchises like The Sims, Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto have all found success on Apple's mobile platform.