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Nintendo has drawn a lot of notice for its upcoming 3DS game handheld because it lets you watch stereoscopic 3D imagery without 3D glasses. But the new system, which debuts in March in the U.S., also has an expanded social networking feature that the Wall Street Journal says will be critical to its acceptance.

The 3DS is a big overhaul of the handheld DS that Nintendo first launched in 2004. The DS has sold more than 135 million units, compared to just 60 million for Sony’s PlayStation Portable. But Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch have come on strong as contenders for the young handheld gaming audience. Slowing sales of the DS (down 43 percent year over year) even prompted Nintendo to post a loss in its most recent quarter. To hang on to its users, Nintendo is betting big on stereoscopic 3D as well as the ability to play wirelessly online.

The latter is a feature that Nintendo has talked about but that has been overshadowed in news coverage. Nintendo has enabled friends to play each other via wireless networks in a local area. But the new StreetPass communications tool will let 3DS users find other players anywhere in the world, whether those players are friends or strangers. The friend doesn’t need to be using a 3DS in order to wirelessly linkup and share data with a 3DS machine via Wi-Fi.

The DS already has a function called Tag Mode that lets players share game data such as maps or character information. But both players have to be using the DS units in order to connect. With StreetPass, there is potential for broader social networking.


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The Wall Street Journal described one application, called StreetPass Plaza, that tells you which 3DS users are nearby and tells you the screen name of a person, the last game they played, when you passed each other in terms of vicinity, and how many times you have run into that person. Users can disable this feature if they want more privacy.

Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s chief executive, said last month that the features will encourage people to carry their 3DS around wherever they go. But the device does not have 3G wireless connectivity, which would make it much easier for 3DS users to get online.

Another wireless feature, SpotPass, connects the 3DS to the internet via Wi-Fi and then lets users play games online against other people. Nintendo can push new software and share game rankings via this feature.

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