Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime on Wii U ‘stumbles’ and balancing nostalgia with reinvention

Nintendo is nearing its 130th birthday, and the company is once again in the midst of major changes as it embraces mobile platforms and online services. But Nintendo of America’s president Reggie Fils-Aime says that should come as no surprise: “We reinvent ourselves every five or 10 years. We have to. It’s in our DNA.”

In an interview at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle, Fils-Aime talked, in his immaculately Nintendo-promotional manner, about the company’s ups and downs over the last decade and what it took to get the Switch out the door.

“We focus on giving consumers experiences that they haven’t even thought of,” he explained. Anyone who has followed Nintendo for a few years certainly wouldn’t disagree — remember the vitality sensor? “By going down this path you create doubters. And we’ll be the first to admit that there will always be stumbles along the way.”

“The Wii had sold a hundred million units globally; the Wii U did not have that same level of success,” he admitted. That’s something of an understatement; the Wii U is widely considered something of a boondoggle, interesting but confusing and hugely outgunned by the competition when it came to what was valued by the rapidly growing mainstream gaming world.

“But in the words of one of our presidents — this is [Hiroshi] Yamauchi — when you’re doing well, don’t be excited by that high-flying performance, and when you’re doing poorly, don’t be sad. Always have an even keel,” he said. Not exactly catchy, but it is good business advice. The focus should be on the horizon.

And that’s where it was, despite the painfully low sales numbers and lack of third-party support. As he tells it, they just plowed ahead with new lessons under their belt.

“If we had not had the Wii U, we would not have the Switch,” he said seriously. “What we heard from customers was that the proposition of a tablet on which they could experience gameplay, coupled with the ability to play games on the TV, is really compelling. Users were telling us, ‘I want to play with this tablet, but when I get 30 feet away from the TV, it disconnects.’ The one point gamers all hate is the point where they have to put the controller down. So it was an important step for us to be able to deliver on this proposition.”

“When I first saw the embodiment of that system,” he recalled, “the hairs on the back of my neck raised up.” It was the same feeling, he said, that he had with the Wii Remote and the DS — both featuring technologies that people were highly skeptical of at first but proved versatile and compelling.

Touchscreens weren’t common when the DS came out, and motion controls weren’t common when the Wii came out, he noted. Both have since become mainstream — not entirely due to Nintendo’s success with them, of course, but it would be disingenuous to say that had nothing to do with it.

But while the company can rightly be said to be taking risks in some ways, in other ways it is uniquely stuck in the past. Its most successful franchises are well past a quarter of a century old.

As Fils-Aime sees it, however, this is exactly how it should be. Mario and Link are characters the way Mickey Mouse or even someone like Robin Hood are characters. New franchises like Splatoon can be established and cared for, but the traditional ones (though no one mentioned Metroid, predictably and unfortunately) should be recycled and brought to new platforms and generations.

Nowadays that includes mobile games, where Nintendo has been taking tentative steps in recent years.

Nintendo’s latest has been criticized for its unvarnished quest for players’ money.

“We see our mobile initiatives as a way to bring our intellectual properties and our gameplay experiences to a larger population than the tens or hundred million consumers that own a dedicated gaming system,” he said. “With Super Mario Run, we literally have hundreds of millions of consumers experiencing Mario, consumers in places where we don’t even distribute our gaming systems. Then maybe they buy that Super Mario t-shirt, they may eat that Super Mario cereal, they may buy a Nintendo Switch.” (Presumably imported.)

Here Fils-Aime’s comments rang a bit hollow, however. Nintendo’s mobile strategy has leaned hard on the “gacha” style game that massively incentivizes in-app purchases of virtual currencies and grinding levels to unlock new characters randomly in loot box style. This seems so far from Nintendo’s core mission of entertainment and so close to the current industry method of cash extraction that it’s hard to believe it’s what the company really wanted to create.

It does, as Fils-Aime said was the goal, allow them to be “effective” on platforms and marketplaces they don’t themselves own, and it does drive their “overall business agenda.” But it seems as though the company is still trying to figure out how to truly bring its games to mobile. Perhaps the upcoming Mario Kart game will be a better option, but it could very easily go the other way, as well.

The new version of Wi-Fi is called Wi-Fi 6 because rules don’t matter

The Wi-Fi Alliance, the working group that has long offered such euphonious, IEEE-defined names for Wi-Fi protocols such as 802.11ab and 802.11n, has finally decided enough was enough with the numbers and letters and such. Their decision? The next Wi-Fi version will be Wi-Fi 6 — and sucks to your ass-mar if you don’t like it.

“For nearly two decades, Wi-Fi users have had to sort through technical naming conventions to determine if their devices support the latest Wi-Fi,” said Wi-Fi Alliance CEO Edgar Figueroa in a release. “Wi-Fi Alliance is excited to introduce Wi-Fi 6, and present a new naming scheme to help industry and Wi-Fi users easily understand the Wi-Fi generation supported by their device or connection.”

Wi-Fi 6 is actually 802.11ax, an improvement on 802.11ac. The ostensible data rate for Wi-Fi 6 is, according to Wikipedia, “37% higher than IEEE 802.11ac, the new amendment is expected to achieve a 4× increase to user throughput due to more efficient spectrum utilization.” It runs eight 5 GHz streams and four 2.4 GHz streams.

In addition to 6 we will now all call 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 and 802.11n will be called Wi-Fi 4. Devices will be officially certified by generation and the first Wi-Fi 6 devices will arrive in 2019. We would encourage you to stop using the 802.11 nomenclature well before the deadline, ensuring a swift and effortless transition into Wi-Fi chaos.

N26 is launching its bank in the UK

Nearly a year after German fintech startup N26 announced that it would launch its service in the U.K., the company is launching in the U.K. N26 is already quite popular in the Eurozone, with more than 1.5 million customers. In this new market, it will face tough competition from existing players, such as Revolut, Monzo, Starling and many others.

N26 is going to roll out its product in multiple phases. Some lucky few will be able to open an account right away. The startup will then go through its waiting list — 50,000 people already left their email addresses to express interest. After that, anybody will be able to download the app and sign up.

This might sound like a convoluted process, but N26 expects a full public launch in just a few weeks. So it should be quite quick if everything goes as planned.

So what can you expect exactly? British customers will get all the basic N26 stuff with one killer feature — U.K. account numbers and sort codes. This way, customers will be able to receive payments and share banking information with their utility providers just like they would with a regular Barclays or Lloyds account.

When you open an N26 account, you get a true bank account and a MasterCard. Basic accounts are free, and N26 has a proper banking license — your deposits up to €100,000 are guaranteed by the European deposit guarantee scheme. You can then send and receive money and pay with your card. Sending money to other N26 users is instantaneous (they call it MoneyBeam).

N26 recently launched Spaces, a new feature that lets you create sub accounts and put some money aside. It’s still limited, but the company plans to add more features.

Your MasterCard works like any other challenger bank. Every time you use it, you receive a push notification. You can set payment and withdrawal limits, lock your card if you lose it and reset your PIN code. N26 will also bring Black and Metal plans to the U.K.

How does it compare to Revolut?

Let’s be honest, the elephant in the room is Revolut . The company has hundreds of thousands (if not over a million) customers in the U.K. N26 lets you do many of the things you can already do with your Revolut account.

So let me point out a few differences. As I noted, N26 has a banking license and U.K. banking information. N26 cards work in Apple Pay and Google Pay.

When it comes to international payments, N26 lets you pay with your card anywhere in the world without any additional fee. The company uses MasterCard’s conversion rates. Revolut first converts the money with its forex feature and then lets you spend your money.

There are an infinite number of forum posts about the exchange rates you’ll get. Sometimes Revolut is cheaper, sometimes N26 is cheaper. It mostly depends on the day of the week (Revolut conversion rates are more expensive on the weekend) and the currency. Unless you plan to spend tens of thousands of GBP during your vacation, you won’t see a huge difference on your bank statement.

Revolut also has many more features than N26. You can insure your phone, buy bitcoins, buy travel insurance, create virtual cards and more. It’s clear that N26 and Revolut have two different styles.

Revolut has a bigger user base than N26. But it’s always been a bit hard to compare them, as N26 wasn’t available in the U.K. Of course, they will both say there are tens of millions of people relying on old banks — multiple challenger banks can grow at the same time if they capture market share from those aging players. Still, the battle between N26 and Revolut is on.

Kobo’s Forma e-reader takes on Kindle Oasis with an asymmetric design and premium price

Kobo’s latest e-reader is a complete about-face from its anonymous, cheap and highly practical Clara HD; the Forma is big, expensive and features a bold — not to say original — design. It’s clearly meant to take on the Kindle Oasis and e-reader fans for whom price is no object.

The $280 Forma joins a number of other e-readers in using a one-handed design, something which is, we might as well admit up front, isn’t for everyone. That said, I’ve found that my reading style on these devices has been able to adapt from one form factor to another — it’s not like they made it head-mountable or something. You still hold it like you would any other small device.

It uses an 8-inch E-Ink Carta display with 300 pixels per inch, which is more than enough for beautiful type. The frontlight — essentially a layer above the display that lights up and bounces light off it to illuminate the page — is a Kobo specialty, adjustable from very cold to very warm in cast and everywhere in-between.

The Clara HD, Kobo’s best entry-level device, left, and the Forma. (The color cast of the screens is adjustable.)

The screen will be very similar to that of the Aura One, Kobo’s previous high-end reader, but the Forma’s asymmetric design gives it slightly closer to square dimensions.

Where it differs from the Kindle Oasis is in size and a couple important particulars of design. The Forma is slightly larger, by about 20 millimeters (3/4″ or so) in height and width, and is ever so slightly but not noticeably thicker. (I didn’t have one to compare on hand, unfortunately.)

It’s also worth saying that like all Kobo devices, there are no forced advertisements on this one, and you can load your own books as easy as that. To me Kindles aren’t even an option any more because of the “special offers” and limited file support.

Chin or ear?

The shape is similar, as anyone can see, but the Kobo team decided to go against having a flush front side and instead give the device a “chin,” as we used to call it on HTC phones, though being on the side it would perhaps more accurately be termed an “ear.” The screen, of course, is flat, but the grip on the side rises up from it at a 15 degree angle or so.

Is this better or worse than having a flush front? Aesthetically I prefer the flush screen, but practically speaking it is better to have a flat back so it lies flat when you put it down or prop it against something. That the Oasis sits at a tilt when you set it down on a table is something that bothers me. (I’m very sensitive, as you can tell.)

It’s still very light, only 30 grams more than the Clara, the same amount less than the Aura One, and nearly equal to the Oasis. Despite being larger than any of those, it’s no less portable. That said, the Clara will fit in my back pocket, and this one most definitely will not.

The device is fully waterproof, like the Oasis, although liquid on the screen can disrupt touch functionality (this is just a physics thing). Nothing to worry about, just wipe it off. The USB port is just wide open, but obviously it’s been sealed off inside. Don’t try charging it underwater.

I am worried about the material the grip is made of: a satin-finish plastic that’s very nice to the touch but tends to attract fingerprints and oils. Look, everyone has oils. But the grip of the Forma won’t let you forget it.

Although the power button is mushy and difficult to tell if you’ve pressed it right, the page-turn buttons are pleasantly clicky, and despite their appearance of being lever-like, they can easily be pressed anywhere along their length — which goes forward and which backward switches automatically if you flip the reader over to use the other hand.

This flipping process happens more or less instantaneously, with rare exceptions in my brief testing. Neither side feels more “correct,” for instance because of the weight distribution or anything.

The only one that doesn’t feel correct is the landscape mode. I’m not sure why someone would want to read this way, though I’m sure a few will like it. It just seems like a missed opportunity. Why can’t I have two pages displayed side by side, like a little pocket paperback? I’d love that! I’ve already asked Kobo about this and I assume that because I have done so, they will add it. As it is, most books simply feel strange in this mode.

Familiar software, unfamiliar price

Text handling seems unchanged from Kobo’s other devices, which means it’s just fine — the typefaces are good and there are lots of options to adjust it to your taste, book by book.

Kobo’s much-appreciated drag-and-drop book adding and support for over a dozen formats (epub, cbr, mobi, etc.) is here as well, with no changes. Pocket integration is solid and extremely useful.

The Forma (like Kobo’s other readers) does have Overdrive support, meaning that with a library card and account there you can easily request and read books from your local branch’s virtual stock. This is an underutilized service in general (by me as well) and I need to take advantage of it more.

So far, so good. But the real question is whether this thing is worth the $280 they’re charging for it — $30 more than the Kindle Oasis and an even bigger jump over the Aura One. In my honest opinion, for most people, the answer is no. For the dollar you get a lot more from the Clara HD, which also has the advantage of being compact and pocketable.

But it must be said that the Forma is clearly a niche device aimed at people who use their e-reader a lot and want that bigger screen, the waterproofing, the thin profile, the one-handed design. There’s a smaller, but not necessarily small, number of people who are willing to pay for that. As it is, the Forma is among the most expensive e-readers out there, and it’s hard to justify that price for ordinary people who just want a good reader with the warmth control and good type.

The Forma is successful at what it aims to do — provide a credible competitor to Amazon’s most expensive device, and beat it at its own game in the ways Kobo usually beats Kindle. That much I can say for certain. Whether to buy it is between you and your wallet. Pre-orders start October 16.

KZen raises $4 million to bring sanity to crypto wallets

KZen, a company run by former TC editor Ouriel Ohayon, has raised $4 million in seed to build a “better wallet,” obviously the elusive Holy Grail in the crypto world.

Benson Oak Ventures, Samsung Next, Elron Ventures invested.

Ohayon, who has worked at Internet Lab and founded TechCrunch France and Appsfire, wanted to create an easy-to-use crypto wallet that wouldn’t confound users. The company name is a play on the Japanese word kaizen or improvement and it also points to the idea of the zero-knowledge proof.

Omer Shlomovits, Tal Be’ery, and Gary Benattar are deep crypto researchers and developers and helped build the wallet of Ohayon’s dreams.

“We wanted something that did not feel like a pre-AOL experience, that was incredibly superior in terms of security, and simple to use,” he said. “We wanted a solution that brings peace of mind and that did not force the user into compromising between convenience and security which is, unfortunately, the current state of affairs. We quickly realized that this mission would not be possible to achieve with the same tools and ideas other companies tried to use so far.”

The app is launching this month and is being kept under wraps until then. Ohayon is well aware that the world doesn’t need another crypto wallet but he’s convinced his solution is the best one.

“The market does not lack solutions,” he said. “On the contrary, there are software wallets, hardware wallets, paper wallets, vaults, hosted custody. But there is no great solution. To be able to use a crypto wallet you either need a good dose of Xanax or a master’s degree in computer science or both, unless you want to depend on a central entity, which is even worse as the news are reminding us weekly.”

We’ll see as they use the cash to launch a crypto wallet that anyone – not just Xanax-eaters – can use.