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Tuesday, October 26, 2010, 08:00 pm PT (11:00 pm ET)

Nintendo president says Apple a bigger threat than Microsoft in games

The president of Nintendo of America said during an interview that Apple is more of a near-term threat than Microsoft in the gaming industry, but dismissed iPod and iPhone games as casual.

Reggie Fils-Aime admitted to Brian Caulfield of Forbes that Nintendo views Apple as a serious threat, while stressing that the iPhone and iPod are used mostly for casual games that provide a "welcome distraction."

“Do I think that in the near term they can hurt us more than Microsoft?” Fils-Aime said. “Absolutely.”

Some of that hurt could come this holiday season, as Nintendo lacks a new device to drive sales. Though it has seen several minor revisions, the Nintendo DS handheld is now 6 years old, and the company's current generation console, the Wii, has been around for 4 years.

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata admitted last month that the company had originally hoped to release its 3DS handheld, which will feature glasses-free 3D gaming, in time for the holidays, but was unable to meet the goal. The device will instead ship on Feb. 26 in Japan and a month later in U.S. and Europe.

As more evidence of the company's struggles, Nintendo cut its profit forecast for the fiscal year by more than half last month. The company lowered its profit forecast from 200 billion yen ($2.39 billion) to 90 billion yen ($1.07 billion).

Fils-Aime remains undaunted, however, asserting that Nintendo has an edge because games on the Nintendo DS are more in-depth and can "consume." For example, Fils-Aime has spent 150 hours playing Dragon Quest. According to the Forbes report, Nintendo makes fourteen of the 20 best selling games for the current generation of gaming devices.

Apple isn't seen as the only threat to Nintendo, though. Fils-Aime says the Kyoto, Japan-based company is competing for people's time. "I compete with Zynga, I compete with surfing the net, I compete with the newspaper," said Fils-Aime.

For years, Nintendo has led the pack in the gaming industry, selling 20 million gaming devices in 2009, more than Microsoft and Sony combined. But, despite being a relative newcomer to the gaming device industry, Apple has the sales volume to compete with Nintendo. In the most recent quarter alone, Apple sold over 20 million iOS devices.

In September, Apple boss Steve Jobs declared the iPod touch "the number one portable game player in the world," saying "the iPod touch outsells Nintendo and Sony portable game players combined," though those numbers have been called into question.

Apple's push into the gaming market is paying off. Between its Game Center social gaming network and a new games editor position for the App Store, Apple has demonstrated that, when it comes to games, it's not playing around. According to a recent survey, Apple has joined the "major league of the portable gaming market," with over 40 million iOS gamers in the U.S.

Speculation earlier this week that Apple was looking into purchasing Nintendo rival Sony at first seemed to increase the threat that Apple could pose to Nintendo, but the rumor dissolved as analysts dismissed a buy-out as highly unlikely.