Two days ago, my esteemed colleague Vlad Savov told you why Nvidia's Project Shield will fail. It's a thought-provoking piece, and one you should read.
I just happen to disagree with practically every point he makes.
Project Shield is a strange beast, to be sure, a device that feels a little out of place. Like Vlad says, it's a gaming handheld, a device in a category historically dominated by Nintendo to such a degree that every competitor has more or less failed — except Sony, whose success seems to be dwindling. It's also a purpose-built gaming device at a time when malleable tablets are in vogue instead. Why, my colleague asks, would an outsider like Nvidia try to build a portable console, especially when even Nintendo's dominent 3DS is losing game developers to the likes of iOS?
Because the Shield runs Android, and the rising tide of Android gaming will raise all boats.
There's substantial interest in Android gaming right now. iOS may be where the hottest mobile games arrive fastest at the moment, but that didn't stop 63,000 people from pledging 8.5 million of their hard-earned dollars to buy the Ouya, an Android game console that doesn't yet exist.
The rising tide of Android gaming will raise all boatsManufacturers certainly seem to think there's a market for portable game controllers, because they're building them in spades, with what appears to be a particular focus on models with Android support. And while the Wikipad has been indefinitely delayed, the Archos GamePad doesn't exactly seem like a gamechanger and the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play (aka PlayStation Phone) flopped, companies are still clearly willing to invest money towards what they see as a viable market for gaming portables.
Unless all these companies are throwing away their money, one or more of these devices will catch on... the more the merrier, because each is a new reason for game developers to pick Android as their platform. Every game built for Ouya is a game for Shield too. Unlike the PlayStation Vita, a similarly compelling piece of hardware that's struggling due to a lack of content, the Shield will be able to play any Android game, while offering tactile console controls and some exciting key features that developers will want to take advantage of.
Let's talk about those. Vlad believes that because two of the Shield's bullet points — streaming games from a PC, and streaming games to a TV — didn't catch on back when they were half-baked niche solutions, that they won't be key to the Shield's success now. That's a little short-sighted, I think. First off, by actually outputting video (and upscaling games) to a TV at 4K resolution, Nvidia's just made the Shield a possible source of content for the first wave of 4K TVs. If the Shield turns out to be a well-made product, it could be a go-to device for early 4K adopters.
Second, while Splashtop streaming might not have been compelling when it required effort to set up, now that it will help Nvidia sell both handheld systems and powerful graphics cards, the company has a vested interest in making it simple and easy; a turnkey solution if possible. There's also Steam to consider. If you have a powerful gaming PC with a large library of Steam games — as many gamers do following the incredible Steam sales — the Shield promises to let you play them anywhere in your house with the console controls.
All of these things are coming together for the first time right now. When Splashtop first made its splash, Steam didn't have a Big Picture Mode, wireless solutions to connect to televisions were still waiting for a technically competent standard, the tablet market pretty much consisted of Apple's iPad, and good Bluetooth wireless game controllers were few and far between. If you wanted to stream games from your PC, your best bet was to painstakingly navigate the Windows interface and your games with an iPad touchscreen. The future Nvidia promises is only beginning to become possible.
I do think the Shield has a lot of challenges ahead. Since there isn't a standard for Android gaming controls, Nvidia will have to convince developers to support its own. There's also the price to consider. Despite helping to drive down the price of Tegra 3 tablets like the Nexus 7, the company is telegraphing that the Shield's price will be significantly higher.
My colleague suggests that by building a device that's console first, tablet second, Nvidia is skating to where the puck used to be. That's true: You used to be able to buy a portable gaming machine and actually expect to play a huge library of games using comfortable, tactile controls.
Price is an open question
While I'm wary of trusting any company to knock it out of the park on the first attempt, Nvidia has built what could be the most compelling portable game system in some time. It might be my next.