Enter Nintendo's DSi XL versus Apple's iPad?

Nintendo reveals its super-sized DSi XL US launch date and pricing, and teases an eBook reader in the bargain.

Pretend for a moment that the Nintendo DSi was a third larger with bigger LCD screens and a blizzard of new apps, including one that let you read eBooks. Would you consider it an iPad contender?

Neither would I, but you have to admit, it's getting harder to tell Nintendo and Apple apart when it comes to projecting where they're plotting to be in a year or three.

In any case, you can stop pretending: The DSi XL, which Nintendo released as the DSi LL in Japan last November, will debut in the US on March 28 for US$190, just 20 bucks more than the standard-issue version released last April. According to Nintendo, the screens will be 93 percent bigger, too, though the display resolution of 256 x 192 per LCD won't change.

The purpose of the XL thus seems to be twofold:

Off the record, to cater to older gamers or anyone with visual issues for whom a larger screen would be a boon. Like my very farsighted father, who loves stuff like Brain Age and Tetris, but wears reading glasses to play (and even then, he's squinting).

And on the record, to lure gamers who want more of a "social experience," by which Nintendo says it means gamers huddled around--or attracted by--the unit's larger screens.

"This product really fills a gap between portable play and the kinds of social experiences that up until now had only been available on consoles," said Nintendo America executive VP of sales and marketing Cammie Dunaway at a news event.

But let's get back to eBooks, because the DSi XL will also include a reader which Business Week calls "similar to products from Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Sony Corp."

What's there to read? Not much initially, just a $20 package called "100 Classic Books," presumably stuff from writers like Melville, Swift, and Twain. And while we're sure to see more recent stuff from mainstream publishers if the XL takes off, even Nintendo's playing down its eBook designs. Dunaway apparently told Business Week it's "not really about trying to take on the eBook market," but adding "one more way to enjoy your device."

Sorry Nintendo, I know you're trying to avoid being evaluated as an eBook contender, but what you're up to--all this multifarious non-gaming stuff--still sounds suspiciously like Apple's in-between-y strategy to me.

Nothing wrong with that. If anyone has the mettle and mindshare to keep a company like Apple on its toes, it's Nintendo...right?

Connect with Matt on Twitter (@game_on)

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