The NVIDIA Sheild: Whom Is This For?

NVIDIA has just announced that its new handheld gaming system, the SHIELD, will launch later this month on July 31st. The launch price of the device has been reduced from an announced $349 to $299. But even with that price reduction, many armchair analysts are left wondering exactly whom NVIDIA is targeting with this device.

NVIDIA SHIELDThe SHIELD looks like a third-party console controller with a five-inch flip-up screen attached. The screen serves as a cover when the device is closed. Naturally, the SHIELD is powered by the NVIDIA Tegra 4 processor, so it will serve as a showcase for their latest mobile CPU/GPU. But that still leaves the question of who NVIDIA believes is the market for this device. Just whom is the SHIELD for?

Right now, the mobile gaming space supports two major players -- Nintendo and Sony. After a rough first year, the Nintendo 3DS has finally gotten its legs and is consistently selling well in most regions. The PlayStation Vita is still looking for the breakout titles that will make it a must-have gaming system; or perhaps it will become a must-have accessory to complement the upcoming PlayStation 4. Either way, these are two great handhelds with lots of exclusive games between them, and they're barely staying afloat under the relentless pressure of comparatively cheap smartphone gaming apps.

It's worth noting that both the 3DS and the Vita are cheaper at retail than the SHIELD will be. Granted, part of the reason for that is that Nintendo and Sony are the exclusive channel for games on their consoles. Thus they can stand a small loss on the hardware and expect to make it up with games sold. As an Android-based device, NVIDIA will not see any revenue from the games that are played on it.

And therein lies another problem: as an Android device, the SHIELD will not be home to any gaming experiences that cannot be had anywhere else. Yes, the gameplay may be improved over smartphones with a fast gaming-centric processor with real physical controls, but if part of the advantage of Android gaming is the inexpensive apps that are available, will anybody see fit to spend $300 for improved controls? Will anybody want to carry an extra device?

Notably, one other trick that the SHEILD can do is streaming PC games to the handheld. This will require a PC with a relatively new NVIDIA GPU to be connected to the same LAN as the SHIELD, so this won't work for everyone. And again, do PC gamers who care tremendously about resolution, detail, and frame rates want to play their games on a five-inch screen?

All of this may sound like I'm really down on the SHIELD. I'm not. I'm always interested to see new players in the gaming space. And as somebody who does not own an Android phone, I have considered whether there's any easy way for me to add Android to my gaming capability. But given the price and the competition from dedicating gaming handhelds, smartphones, and other Android-based gaming devices like the OUYA or the GameStick, I can't help but wonder who the intended audience for this endeavor is supposed to be.