Nintendo just surprised everybody with the announcement that its working on some new hardware, codenamed "NX". Pretty much everything about "NX" besides its codename remains a mystery, however.
Lest we devolve into wild and errant speculation, let's review what Nintendo has said publicly about its new hardware.
They 'Already Have A Clear Idea' Of What It will Be
Here's company president Satoru Iwata speaking during a shareholder Q&A that was published place in May 2014, in response to a question about "when Nintendo will launch its next-generation video game systems." Emphasis added:
Once we launch a new platform, we naturally start to prepare for the next one. As it takes several years to develop a single platform, if you ask us whether we are preparing for our next system, then the correct response will be that we are always developing new hardware. On the other hand, the most difficult question for us to answer in public in concrete terms is when we are going to launch our new hardware and what kind of hardware we are going to launch, and I am afraid that I cannot talk about this in more detail. However, I can certainly assure you that we are not at a dead end of any kind in which we are out of ideas for developing new hardware. I of course believe that launching new hardware will not produce good results unless we first make sure that those who have already purchased our platforms are satisfied. We will continue to work hard to ensure that consumers who already own our platforms are satisfied, and make sure that people will continue to see great value in our software, but I would like to say that we are preparing for our next hardware system, and in fact, we already have a clear idea to some extent about the direction our next hardware is going to take.
Iwata was careful not to make it sound like Nintendo was abandoning its relatively new Wii U console. But given the fact that the Wii U has sold very poorly for its entire lifespan so far, it's telling that he took the time to assuage investors by telling them how confident the company is in its next hardware system.
It Is Not Related To Their Health Stuff
Last month, Iwata clarified at least one point about future Nintendo gaming hardware: that it is not directly related to the company's other hardware initiative — the one focusing on "quality of life." From Brian's original write-up:
It's not necessary to be particular about game hardware," Iwata told Asahi News. It seems Iwata means that, as evident with the sleep sensor, Nintendo's health care business doesn't need to be tied to its video game consoles.
They Want To Have A Unified Operating System Across Multiple Gaming Platforms
Nintendo has spoken repeatedly (and vaguely) about the importance of their "hardware-software integrated platform business" in the past, but only recently did they start addressing the specific problems they seemed to be overlooking within that very paradigm: the fact that they have relatively self-contained ecosystems on, say, the Wii U and 3DS. In another investor Q&A — this one translated and published last month (via GameSpot) — Iwata said that in the future he wants handhelds and other gaming consoles to be "like brothers in a family of systems." Previously, Iwata explained, Nintendo had come up with "completely different architectures" for its different gaming systems, which leads to "divergent methods" for software development in turn.
Iwata added that the fraternal-like bonds will only truly be achievable in the next generation, saying: "While we are only going to be able to start this with the next system, it will become important for us to accurately take advantage of what we have done with the Wii U architecture."
Does this mean its curtains for the Wii U in the near future? Not exactly, but Iwata's comments did make it sound like Nintendo is already setting its sights somewhere above and beyond its current two systems. "It of course does not mean that we are going to use exactly the same architecture as Wii U," Iwata continued in his comment to investors, "but we are going to create a system that can absorb the Wii U architecture adequately."
That last line makes it sound like the NX (whatever it ends up being) will come equipped with a virtual console — much like the Wii U did. Other than a few small details like that, though, NX is pretty much one big mystery box for the time being.