TIME Autos

Chevy’s New Cars Will Keep Your Phone Cool While it Charges

Chevy Vent
Chevy Chevy Vent

To help prevent your smartphone from overheating

A cell phone stuck baking in the summer sun in a car can turn piping hot fast. Now, Chevrolet has devised a solution: an air conditioning vent made especially for phones.

Many of Chevy’s 2016 fleet of vehicles, including the Malibu, Volt and and Impala will feature a special AC vent in the middle console in the spot where people often stash their phones.

The feature only works when the whole car’s AC is on, so leaving the phone in a hot car when you’re out and about is still a bad idea. But it could help keep a phone cool when it’s doing things like charging, giving directions or streaming music.

TIME Smartphones

Here’s How Many Americans Sleep With Their Smartphones

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Smartphone reliance is growing

Nearly three-quarters of Americans (71%) who own smartphones sleep with them — either by putting their phone on a nightstand, in their bed, or, for 3% of people, holding it in their hands.

A new mobile consumer report from Bank of America found that not only do Americans sleep with their smartphones, but the devices are also the first thing on people’s minds when they wake up: 35% of respondents said their first thought in the morning is about their smartphone; 10% said it was for their significant other.

The new report underscores an increasing trend of smartphone reliance among owners of the device, especially Millennials.

Throughout the day, more than half of Americans, about 57%, say they use their phone at least once an hour. In New York, that statistic jumps to 96%. In California, it’s 88%.

This constant interaction with smartphones means that Americans are increasingly using their phones for banking. More than half of the survey’s respondents said they use either an app, or a web browser as their primary form of banking. In California, 57% of residents are actively using a mobile banking app, mainly for banking notifications and alerts, checking balances, and mobile check deposits. By comparison, 53% of New Yorkers and Texans actively use banking apps.

Not crazy about smartphones? You might want to move to Denver. The city’s respondents are the most likely to survive without their smartphones: 49% said they would choose phone calls if they could only keep one feature of their phones (that’s 10% above the national average); and 27% of Denver respondents said they could refrain from using their phones indefinitely.

But even in Denver, the trend is inescapable: 63% of Denver residents sleep with their phones.

The Bank of America study surveyed 1,000 people who own smartphones and have banking relationships across the United States, plus 300 people in key markets such as New York, Denver, and California.

TIME Wireless

T-Mobile Will Let You Upgrade Your Phone Whenever You Want

T-Mobile
Steve Sands John Legere CEO of T-Mobile announces the company's new plans on March 18, 2015 in New York City.

New plan grants customers three upgrades a year with no additional cost

T-Mobile has been wreaking havoc on the wireless industry for two years with disruptive customer deals that upset the tradition of binding two-year contracts. Now the company has another new initiative that its larger competitors may be forced to respond to.

On Thursday, T-Mobile announced Jump! On Demand, a new initiative that will let users upgrade their smartphones up to three times a year without having to pay any additional fees. Customers can get their first phone on the plan for $0 down, then pay a monthly fee toward the purchase of the new phone. When ready for a new phone, a customer can trade in their current device for another one at no cost.

Rates for the monthly payment plan vary, but an initial promotion will let customers get an iPhone 6 with a payment plan of $15 per month when they trade in their old smartphone. These phone payment rates are in addition to the cost of the wireless plan.

There is some fine print. T-Mobile has an older Jump! plan that charges a $10 per month fee but includes perks such as phone insurance. This new plan has no fee, but no insurance. The payment plan also is part of an 18-month lease, and after a year and a half, customers must either upgrade to a new phone or pay the balance on their current phone to purchase the device outright.

Still, for people who are constantly eager to upgrade, the offering is an affordable way to always have the latest and greatest device. It’s also more flexible than offerings by T-Mobile’s competitors aimed at frequent upgraders.

Jump! Unlimited kicks off on June 28 at participating physical T-Mobile stores.

MONEY Tech

Our National Robocalling Nightmare May Soon Be Over

robot using smartphone
iStock

Take that, spammers and robocallers!

In the phrase “unwanted robocall,” the word unwanted probably isn’t necessary. Is there any automated sales call that is actually wanted? Ever?

Earlier this year, 200,000 people signed a petition asking telecom companies to give customers the means to block commercial robocalls. They probably could have gotten tens of millions of such signatures with a little more time and outreach.

In any event, on Thursday, hallelujah, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a package that will make it much easier to put a stop to the extremely annoying and unwanted robocalls. The commission’s decision “affirmed consumers’ rights to control the calls they receive,” while also clarifying that it was fully legal for telephone companies to offer robocall-blocking technology to customers.

“Complaints related to unwanted calls are the largest category of complaints received by the Commission, numbering more than 215,000 in 2014,” an FCC statement explained. (The Federal Trade Commission, meanwhile, reportedly received an astounding 3 million complaints about robocalls in 2014.) The new rules are intended to address consumer concerns by “closing loopholes and strengthening consumer protections already on the books,” according to the FCC.

Despite heavy lobbying from multiple industries on the pro-robocall and pro-spam side, the FCC ruled to uphold and clarify the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, while also bolstering the protections offered by the Do Not Call Registry. Specifically, the package affirmed:

• Phone service providers can offer robocall-blocking technology to customers.

• Consumers can decide to opt out of robocalls at any time.

• The same protections and opt-out rights regarding telemarketing messages apply to text messages as well as calls to wireless and landline phones.

A group of consumer advocates jointly applauded the measure as soon as it was announced. “We applaud the FCC for holding the line to keep the plague of unwanted robocalls from becoming even worse,” said Susan Grant, director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at Consumer Federation of America. “Since the FCC has now clarified that telephone companies can block these types of calls, we expect the companies to act quickly to implement blocking options for their customers.”

On the other hand, speaking on behalf of the business community, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned that the FCC’s move could lead to more class-action lawsuits against companies, which would “likely lead to increased costs for consumers.”

Or perhaps businesses could simply stop robocalling and avoid lawsuits entirely.

TIME Samsung

Samsung Accidentally Posted Everything About Its Newest S6 Phone

Newest Innovations In Consumer Technology On Display At 2015 International CES
David Becker—Getty Images A general view of the Samsung booth at the 2015 International CES at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 6, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It isn't even the first time information has leaked about the device

Information about Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S6 “Active,” a more rugged version of its flagship Galaxy S6, has leaked online, 9to5Google reports.

Samsung US appears to have posted the entirety of the S6 Active’s user manual online, although the new Galaxy smartphone has yet to be officially announced. The manual has since been taken down.

9to5Google reports that the phone’s manual is 108 pages long and includes detailed information about the phone’s features. This isn’t the first time that information has leaked about the Galaxy S6 Active — there have been past image leaks of press renders as far back as last month.

According to the leaked manual, the S6 Active will have a 5.1 inch display, 32GB of storage and 16MP and 5MP rear- and front-facing cameras, respectively.

Investment bank Oppenheimer released a research note last month arguing Samsung is “placing a wrong bet” on its Galaxy S6 flagship as sales have been dipping in recent months.

TIME Phones

Hate Your Phone? This Kickstarter is for You

Courtesy of The Light Phone

This new phone is perfect for when you mostly want to disconnect

Smart phones are ubiquitous in modern life. But if you’re the type of person who hates having to carry around a mini-computer in your pocket, a new Kickstarter campaign has a solution.

The Light Phone is a credit card-sized device that does nothing but make phone calls. No games, no texts, and no Twitter that you incessantly check up on (the writer of this article has certainly been guilty of that before.) It can piggyback onto your smartphone service so that you don’t have to go completely cold turkey.

But you can at least leave the house with no access to social media while still being able to make and receive emergency calls.

The phone has its own number. But it also connects to an app that can forward all calls from your pre-existing number. The device also has a simple clock, a touch pad for entering numbers and 20 days of battery life.

In theory, buying a simple flip phone or burner phone could achieve the same goal. The Light Phone, though, is much thinner (seriously, you can fit it in your wallet) and in theory easier to connect to your existing number.

Here’s a video from the Kickstarter:

The Light Phone costs $100 to pre-order. The project has already gotten more than $120,000 in backing, and is looking to raise $200,000 by June 27. The phones are expected to ship in May 2016. The phone comes with a SIM card with 500 minutes and a mini USB charger.

TIME Mobile

Why Tweets Are About to Dominate Your Google Searches

The Twitter logo displayed on a mobile device.
Bethany Clarke—Getty Images The Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile device.

The two tech companies are cozying up

On Tuesday, Google announced that it is partnering with Twitter to make tweets searchable on mobile devices. The new feature will become available on the English version of Google.com, the Android and iOS versions of Google’s search app, and on mobile browsers.

“It’s a great way to get real-time info when something is happening,” writes Google senior product manager Ardan Arac in a company blog post. “And it’s another way for organizations and people on Twitter to reach a global audience at the most relevant moments.”

Google had previously gained access to Twitter’s so-called firehose, the stream of real-time posts uploaded to the social network, earlier this year—rekindling a failed partnership from several years ago.

A post on Google’s official blog shows what the new feature will look like. It demonstrates a search for “nasa twitter”:

nasa-twitter
Courtesy Google

The deal could signal more partnerships between the two to come. It looks like the two are hitting it off already:

For more on Google and Twitter’s partnership watch:

http://fortune.com/video/2015/02/05/how-the-google-search-deal-could-be-a-boon-for-twitter/

TIME Smartphones

The 5 Best Smartphones Right Now

Samsung Electronics Co.'s Galaxy S6 And Galaxy S6 Edge Smartphones Go On Sale In Hong Kong
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images An attendee tries out a Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy S6 Edge smartphone during a launch event at a Samsung Partnershop in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, April 10, 2015.

The iPhone 6 isn't your only option

Thanks to some intense competition in the smartphone space, upgrading your handset isn’t as easy as it used to be. Not too long ago it was iPhone, Samsung or bust. But with compelling hardware efforts from Google, LG, and others, there are a ton more great options when it comes time to choose a new smartphone.

And while overall there’s a dizzying amount of smartphones on the market, when it comes to investing in the latest and greatest, these five stand out from the rest. But since they’re mostly comparable to each other, the best way to choose is by basing your decision on the most important characteristic to you.

Best Android: Nexus 6

Google’s latest Android operating system, Lollipop, is so colorful and smooth it’s practically lickable. To get the most out of its edge-to-edge interface, you’ll want to upgrade to a Nexus 6, a monster of a smartphone with a nearly 6-inch AMOLED display. Packing an eye-popping 493 pixels per inch, the Nexus’s display is driven by a quad-core 2.7 GHz Snapdragon 805 processor that crunches through apps and background processes with ease. Translation: Google Now is always in the moment.

But in addition, from video streaming to video slinging, the Nexus 6 has the processing power and multimedia chops to make any Android game or movie pop off the screen. (And starting with 32 gigabytes of onboard storage, it has plenty of room to hold all that content, too.) That speed translates into every corner of the operating system as well: photos snap faster, NFC connects more reliably, and the web unfurls without a hiccup.

If Android is your world, this Nexus 6 should be your window to it. Starting at $649, or $36.11 per month with an 18 month loan.

Best Apps: iPhone 6

I’ll probably get half a dozen tweets and emails for saying this, but if having access to the hottest new apps is the most important aspect of smartphone ownership for you, cozy up to iOS before considering any Android handset. While Google says its operating system has more apps than iOS, there are plenty of free, junkier apps on Android. Apple’s iOS tends to get exclusive apps first because studies have shown iPhone owners actually pay for more apps. Put bluntly, iPhone developers get more money, which encourages them to publish with Apple first. And there’s no better way to experience iOS’s riches than with Apple’s iPhone 6.

Its 4.7-inch, 326 pixel-per-inch Retina display is big enough to be beautiful but small enough to still fit in a pocket. A new processor melds high performance with motion detection, perfect for workout apps. And an 8-megapixel camera able to snap everything from action shots to 43 megapixel panoramas makes its various camera apps shoot beautifully. In addition, a bigger overall body made room for a longer-lasting battery, which is necessary for all the apps you’ll be enjoying. The one downside is the 16 gigabyte base model — who can squeeze all their favorite games and programs into something that small? Starting at $649, or $199 with a 2-year contract.

Best Camera: LG G4

Some Android afficionados might disagree with putting the LG G4 in the top five, but that’s because they haven’t had a hands-on yet. Admittedly, running a hex-core 1.8 Ghz Snapdragon 808 chip, it’s not the fastest phone in the list. But with Lollipop as an operating system, it’s as up-to-date as they come, especially when you take it in through the G4’s amazingly dense 538 pixel-per-inch 5.5-inch display. Bright, vivid, and even good in direct sunlight, this is the kind of screen you need if you want to take in all the details captured by the phone’s 16-megapixel rear-facing camera. With laser-assisted autofocus and the ability to shoot in RAW, this camera is practically DSLR quality.

Smartly, LG gave the G4 a powerful default camera app to match, with all sorts of manual controls from shutter speed to white balance, making it a great shot in all sorts of light. Throw in a couple of old-school perks like a removable battery and microSD card support (in addition to 32 GB of internal storage) — both of which seem to be favorite specs that are going the way of the dinosaur — and the G4 has what it takes to hardcore shutterbugs to shoot for the stars. Starting at $649.

Best Design: Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge

One challenge in picking the best phones is how they all eventually seem to ape each other — in fact, there was a volley of Samsung/Apple lawsuits about this very issue. But Samsung is breaking the mold with its new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, boasting a curved glass design that’s no gimmick. The handset’s 5.1-inch AMOLED display is a feast for the eyes, with 577 pixels per inch making its version of Android Lollipop practically leap off the screen.

But it’s the display’s rounded edges that make a big difference here, not just in the phone’s physical feel, but in how users interact with its software. Flick in a tab on the right, and you get access to your contacts at a swipe. Another clever use for the sidebars is the phone’s “information stream,” which shows texts and other alerts without powering on the entire display. The S6 Edge is particularly great as a bedside clock, because it doesn’t light up the whole room just showing the time. And with a wireless charger, the phone makes a full transition from being just another great gadget to becoming a touching part of your life. Starting at $815, or $299 with a 2-year contract.

Best Value: Moto X

With a business model that revolves around as many free services as it can afford, Google would be expected to deliver on the best value in smartphones, and with the Moto X, the search giant delivered (Motorola Mobility is now owned by Lenovo). Though technically not free (it starts at 99 cents with a two-year contract), the supremely customizable handset has some impressive base specs, like its 5.2-inch, 424 pixel-per-inch AMOLED screen, Android Lollipop compatibility, and removable battery which can charge more than halfway in just 30 minutes.

The Moto X’s camera shoots with the best of them, and a range of storage options (from 16 to 64 gigabytes) will satisfy digital packrats and cloud-consuming users, alike. And with an astounding amount of customization options, from dozens of rear casing covers to personalized boot-up messages, this smartphone may be the smartest thing on your person, matching your individual style down to the handset’s trim. Starting at $399, or $.99 with a 2-year contract.

Note to reader: All prices are off contract, unless otherwise noted.

TIME Smartphones

You Can Now Find Your Lost Phone by Googling It

Inside A Samsung Electronics Co. Digital Store Ahead Of Fourth-Quarter Results
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A visitor tries out a Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy Note 4 smartphone at the company's d'light flagship store in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.

It only works for Android users

Next time you lose your phone, a simple Google search may be able to find it.

Google announced Wednesday a new phone-finding feature for Android users tied to its search engine. Simply type “find my phone” into the Google search bar, and the results will show a map with the last known location of your phone. You can also choose to ring the phone from this page to make it easier to find — say, if it’s lost under the couch.

The feature works on the desktop and with the Google search app. Just make sure you’re signed into the same Google account on your phone and on your desktop to enable the option.

Read next: Google Has a New Handwriting Keyboard and It Actually Works

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TIME Video Games

Exclusive: Inside Nintendo’s Bold Plan to Stay Vibrant for the Next 125 Years

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata Earnings News Conference
Yuzuru Yoshikawa—Bloomberg/Getty Images Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata speaks during a news conference in Osaka, Japan, on Oct. 29, 2014.

The company's CEO tells TIME Nintendo's historic engine is far from stalled

In late 2013, Satoru Iwata sat alone on a bullet train headed toward Tokyo. As the carriage sped silently down the track, Iwata, the puckish CEO of Nintendo, began sketching out a new idea: a line of physical toys with built-in chips that connected wirelessly to the company’s varied game systems. The toys would let Nintendo trade on its universe of characters like Mario and Donkey Kong while generating new sales.

Iwata, a 55-year-old who dresses in three-piece suits and speaks in measured phrases, often pausing to chuckle, says he got more and more excited as he mulled the concept. He dashed off a four-page pitch to his engineers. “It was something I believed would be completely new for us,” he recalls. The result was an array of figurines dubbed Amiibo (Japanese wordplay meant to evoke friends playing together), which launched worldwide a little less than a year later and turned out to be a hit. Nintendo says it sold nearly 6 million figurines, which go for about $13 each, by the end of 2014.

Amiibo was a badly needed success for Nintendo—but one that underscores the difficult position the video-game pioneer finds itself in. The company that generated enormous profits in the 1990s and 2000s by introducing innovations in game controls and forcing rivals to adopt its ideas now at times follows in the footsteps of the competition. The gamemaker Activision has been selling similar toys since 2011, grossing nearly $3 billion. Disney, meanwhile, has its own version, based on movie characters such as Buzz Lightyear and Captain Jack Sparrow.

Nintendo has been struggling for years. Wii U, the successor to the wildly popular Wii, has sold just under 10 million units since its launch in 2012. (From 2006 to 2014, Nintendo sold more than 100 million Wiis. And Microsoft and Sony, which launched competing systems after Wii U, have both outsold it.) Last summer, Nintendo laid off over 300 employees in Europe. And the company’s return to modest profitability late last year, thanks in part to a weaker yen, materialized after three consecutive years of losses. Nintendo’s critics have been relentless in demanding that the company abandon its hardware business and make versions of its games for smartphones and tablets.

MORE Exclusive: Nintendo CEO Reveals Plans for Smartphones

On March 17, Iwata announced what many—including Nintendo’s own executives—long thought impossible: the company will begin making games for mobile devices. Nintendo is striking a partnership with Japanese mobile gaming giant DeNA to establish a smart device gaming platform to be introduced this fall. The alliance includes a cross-shareholding agreement: Nintendo is buying a 10% stake in DeNA for $182 million; DeNA is acquiring a 1.24% stake in Nintendo for the same amount.

It’s not hard to see why Nintendo is reversing course now. Research firm Gartner reported global smartphone and tablet sales of over 1.4 billion units in 2014. By contrast, the two best-selling video-game systems of all time—Sony’s PlayStation 2 console and Nintendo’s DS handheld—each took nearly a decade to sell 150 million units. Meanwhile, smartphone gamemakers like King (Candy Crush) and Rovio (Angry Birds) are now worth billions. And mobile knockoffs of 1980s classics have turned into overnight hits (see: Crossy Road and Flappy Bird), while Mario, Luigi and friends have not yet been found on a phone.

Why now? “In the digital world, content has the tendency to lose value, especially on smart devices,” Iwata tells TIME exclusively. “We finally found solutions to the problem. We will not merely port games developed for our dedicated systems to smart devices just as they are—we will develop brand new software which perfectly matches the play style and control mechanisms of smart devices.” The ultimate goal: to drive tablet and phone users to Nintendo’s hardware such that they “eventually become fans of our dedicated systems.”

Nintendo’s senior leaders rarely talk publicly about internal strategy. But the company’s top three executives recently agreed to speak with TIME and insisted that Nintendo is not out of big ideas. (Please click here for full Q&As with Iwata and Miyamoto.) The about-face on mobile devices is just one example, they argue. The firm is busily retooling to create new products, like Amiibo and its new 3DS handheld, released in February, more quickly. And Nintendo is opening up by broadcasting presentations—sometimes serious, sometimes silly—directly to its fans to combat a reputation for flat-footedness. All of these moves are part of a company-wide effort to reinvigorate the Japanese icon.

Not on the agenda: abandoning hardware. In addition to its revised mobile strategy, details on a new Nintendo platform codenamed “NX” are due next year. Iwata argues that pressure to get out of that business has always reflected a deep misunderstanding of the company’s approach to innovation. “We view it as that marriage of the software with the hardware that together creates a compelling experience,” says Reggie Fils-Aimé, Nintendo of America’s president. Iwata concurs, explaining that dropping out of hardware would cripple the company. “If we don’t take an approach that looks holistically at the form a video-game platform should take in the future,” he says, “then we’re not able to sustain Nintendo 10 years down the road.”

Humble Origins
Nintendo is a much older company than its signature candy-colored protagonists suggest. Founded in Kyoto in 1889 by artist turned entrepreneur Fusajiro Yamauchi, the company began as a manufacturer of handcrafted playing cards. The Nintendo most people know was born in 1966. That’s when Hiroshi Yamauchi, the firm’s longest-serving president (from 1950 to 2002), greenlighted a gadget that employed crisscross slats and a scissors-like handle to make an extensible arm. It sold millions of units and paved the way for a series of quirky playthings that included early electronic games in the 1970s.

More recently, the company has been run as a creative troika, with Iwata at the top and presidents in both Europe (Satoru Shibata) and North America (Fils-Aimé). Shigeru Miyamoto, the storied creator of Donkey Kong, Mario and Zelda, is the company’s creative genius and currently the general manager of its R&D division.

MORE Exclusive: 7 Brilliant Insights from Nintendo’s Gaming Genius Shigeru Miyamoto

That division’s approach to game design can sound counterintuitive. Conventional wisdom holds that consumer-electronics manufacturers should first design a game system, then lure third-party software developers to furnish it with hits. Nintendo says it does the opposite: it experiments until it finds something its existing systems can’t do—motion sensors in the case of the Wii, or a touchscreen for the Wii U—then makes the hardware to support it. “Our job is to continue to create new platforms that enable us to create fun new ways to play,” says Miyamoto.

Mobile games will present a new set of challenges for the company. Many of that market’s biggest hits are initially free to download but generate enormous sales by constantly prompting users to pay small amounts for in-game items. Iwata says this doesn’t track with Nintendo’s identity. “Nintendo does not intend to choose payment methods that may hurt Nintendo’s brand image or our intellectual property,” he says. That doesn’t mean so-called micro-transactions are entirely out of the question, however. The company will decide which payment system to employ depending on the title, Iwata says. He adds: “It’s even more important for us to consider how we can get as many people around the world as possible to play Nintendo smart device apps, rather than to consider which payment system will earn the most money.”

How the firm deploys its vast library of beloved characters is another major decision. Nintendo says this stable of characters will be an asset as it enters a new, rapidly changing market. It plans to develop multiple titles simultaneously. “We would like to create several hit titles by effectively leveraging the appeal of Nintendo IP,” Iwata explains.

Nintendo’s executives are adamant that creating dedicated hardware is a core part of its creative process. That is why the announcement of new mobile titles coincided with the announcement of a new platform, the NX. “For us to create unique experiences that other companies cannot, the best possible option for us is to be able to develop hardware that can realize unique software experiences,” explains Iwata.

And, Iwata argues, there is a symbiotic relationship between the world’s iPhones and Android devices and Nintendo-made hardware. “Even before the advent of smart devices, we employed touchscreens for our games with Nintendo DS, and we also adopted accelerometers for our Wii Remotes faster than smart devices did,” he explains. “By utilizing our unique know-how in areas like these, I believe we will be able to come up with unique propositions for consumers.” Nintendo is planning to elaborate on how exactly this will work for specific titles over the coming months.

For now, Nintendo’s biggest seller remains its 3DS, a handheld successor to the Game Boy introduced in 2011. It is designed to appeal to all ages but is most popular among younger players. That’s partly about parents. In a world flush with smartdevices that can tap the entire Internet—­including unsavory fare—Nintendo’s handhelds are relative walled gardens of controversy-free content. The 3DS can go online, but only if parents have set the device’s privacy controls to allow it.

Internet-connectivity aside, the 3DS is like an iPhone on steroids. It’s kitted with two screens, one of which is touch-­sensitive; dual cameras for use by games or for taking pictures; and Wii-like motion sensors. It displays images that appear three-dimensional without having the player use special 3-D glasses. The latest version, the prosaically named New Nintendo 3DS ($199), takes the concept further by using advanced eye-tracking techniques to improve the 3-D effect.

The company says the newest model is one example of how Nintendo will conduct itself going forward. Late into the development of the system, Nintendo met with a company that had the technology capable of improving its 3-D, which in previous versions had been knocked for not always working well. After previewing the technology, Miyamoto stunned his engineers. “He said, ‘Why aren’t we putting that in this system? If we don’t put this in, there’s no point in making the system,’” recalls Iwata.

In times past, Nintendo might not have upended its plans at the final hour to make complex technical changes. “I was personally asked many times by many engineers internally, ‘Are we really going to do this?’” says Iwata, who began his career as a programmer. “This is where my background in technology is quite helpful, because it means the engineers can’t trick me.”

The feature, dubbed “super-stable 3-D” by Nintendo’s marketing wing, is now seen as indispensable to the handheld’s overhaul. New Nintendo 3DS has rallied sales relatively late in the platform’s life cycle, giving the company a much-needed boost.

Next Phase
On balance, Nintendo’s methods have reaped more hits than misses. But the misses have been consistent and significant. Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, the company’s way-early shot at a virtual-reality gaming system in 1995, was a commercial disaster. The first “PlayStation” was supposed to be a Sony-manufactured add-on for Super Nintendo, but Sony and Nintendo couldn’t come to terms on a deal, spurring Sony to become a major competitor. And yet flights of fancy have ultimately proved to be Nintendo’s chief strength over the years. The Wii—with its motion-detecting controllers that had players swing invisible tennis rackets—seemed like a bizarre concept when it was unveiled in late 2006.

The comparatively weak response to the Wii U isn’t lost on Iwata. “Certainly I’m not satisfied with the current situation,” he says. “It may not be [people’s] first console of choice, but they recognize it as perhaps the best second console,” he adds. In truth, the Wii U may turn out to be a placeholder. “I think they’ve bought themselves time to figure out what that next monumental step forward is,” says Digital World Research analyst P.J. McNealy. Adds Yves Guillemot, CEO of games publisher Ubisoft: “The challenge for Nintendo now is to make sure their hardware continues to be convincing enough for people to buy.” Guillemot is confident the company can do that.

MORE Exclusive: Nintendo CEO Reveals Plans for Smartphones

Dan Adelman, a Nintendo executive from 2005 to 2014 who is now a games-­industry consultant, says the firm “is already making the best games of any publisher out there.” Compared with those of other publishers, Nintendo’s games consistently earn top marks from critics. But Adelman says the company must continue to aggressively streamline its bureaucracy. “With Nintendo, I honestly can’t tell you what they’re going to do,” explains David D’Angelo, of Yacht Club Games, which released its title Shovel Knight for the company’s systems. “I could think about it all day, every day for a year, and it’ll still surprise me when it comes out, whatever wacky gameplay thing they think they should be pushing next.”

That leaves Nintendo rethinking its approach to the very industry it helped define. “I have never intended to dismiss the entertainment experiences that people are enjoying on smart devices or any other media,” Iwata says. “On the other hand, my understanding is that, on smart devices, the main demand is for very accessible games which smart device users can easily start and easily finish. These are not necessarily the characteristics that people demand from games for dedicated video game systems.”

As the company embarks on a strategy that straddles its traditional mode of innovation with the fast-changing world of mobile technology, there are likely to be more questions than answers. “We do have doubts [about] continuing to extend our business in the way that we have in the past,” admits Iwata. “We have doubts about whether or not people will continue to see those simple extensions of what we’ve done as new and surprising.” Fixing that will require entirely fresh ideas that can cut through the noise created by so many competing platforms. “If it takes a lot of explanation for people to understand your entertainment product,” says Iwata, “you’re doing something wrong.”

Read next: Exclusive: Nintendo CEO Reveals Plans for Smartphones

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