You've got to love Japanese game maker Nintendo -- it does things its way, industry trends be hanged. You can see it in the company's innovative products and marketing, as well as in its past resistance to abandon cartridges as the format of choice for its game consoles. (It finally gave up with the GameCube, though, even that machine uses a proprietary disc format.) Now, it appears, it may be resisting the move toward multifunction portable units.

Two days ago, a long-awaited announcement containing details about Nintendo's upcoming "mystery" product finally broke. The company will debut its Nintendo DS worldwide in 2004. DS will be a two-screen portable that gives players two vantage points on game action. As the company explains it: a player, for example, could view a virtual soccer match as a whole in screen one, while concentrating on a single player in game two. Initial industry reaction has been, well, cautious -- to be very polite.

What's unclear based on currently available information -- the company says more will be revealed at the E3 consumer electronics show in May -- is whether the DS, apparently not meant to replace either GameCube or the market-dominating GameBoy Advance portable, will have any functions besides gaming. None have been mentioned in coverage I've seen thus far.

With some manufacturers working to change the fundamental nature of handheld devices, this is a key question. Some years back, electronic planners, such as the PalmPilot, were all the rage. Then it was multifunction mobile phones. And now, it seems, the market is mad for entertainment devices like the GameBoy Advance, Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPod and its derivatives, Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) N-Gage game/phone/music machine, and so on. Sony's (NYSE:SNE) upcoming PlayStation Portable, with rumored music and Web capability, should only further the trend toward multifunctionality.

Broadly speaking, this is interesting in light of recent reports that Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) may be trimming its stock of handheld computers to clear shelf space for more entertainment devices. It's still a new market in which many companies (and consumers) are trying to find their way.

It will be interesting to see which direction always-innovative Nintendo may go. Having largely lost the console war, one hopes it doesn't innovate itself into portable irrelevance as well.

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Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at