The death of company president Satoru Iwata raises questions about the priority of Nintendo's Quality of Life project.
Satoru Iwata had a long standing dream of helping people improve their health.
Before his untimely death in July, the Nintendo president had tried several times to leverage the company’s talents to get people moving. The Wii was the first step, introducing physical motion into a wide array of video games, rather than mere thumb twitches and button mashing. Wii Fit continued that legacy, adding gamification to workouts—and spawning a new game genre in the process.
Up next was the Vitality Sensor, an accessory that aimed to help players relax, controlling games with their heartbeat. (The product was cancelled before it shipped.) And in January 2014, Iwata announced plans to focus Nintendo on non-wearable health monitors as part of a new 10-year strategy.
But information about that initiative—dubbed QOL (for ‘quality of life’)—has been fairly sparse since its unveiling. And with Iwata’s recent passing, analysts wonder if the company will continue to prioritize it, especially with so many other ongoing transformations.
“I think it’s been pushed to the back burner,” says Lewis Ward, research director for gaming at IDC. “It’s supposed to be released in the U.S. by the end of March , but I haven’t heard anything. … [However,] I do think Nintendo has always had an interest in ‘Blue Ocean’ markets and health care and the intersection with their hardware and their software is something they’ve viewed as an opportunity.”
Other analysts are even more skeptical.
“I think it’s probably dead—just like the Wii Vitality Sensor was before and they didn’t tell anybody,” says Michael Pachter, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities.
Nintendo did not reply to requests for comment about the matter.
Nintendo NTDOY , as a company is certainly at a crossroad, making Iwata’s death even more problematic. The company is working with DeNA to release a Nintendo mobile game for iOS and Android devices by year’s end. And it will unveil a new dedicated hardware system, code-named NX, next year as well. Both of those projects are seen universally as high priority—certainly higher than that of the QOL project.
Nintendo last directly addressed the QOL project in late October 2014, with Iwata describing the first product as a fatigue and sleep sensor that could be placed at bedside and would monitor your body, breathing and heartbeat—without the need for a wearable component. Data collected from the device would be transmitted to cloud servers, analyzed and sent to the user in graph form to let them understand and improve the quality of their sleep.
“Since fatigue per se is not regarded as a disease in the medical world, it is said to be a field where sufficient research has yet to be conducted,” Iwata said at the time. “We have been fortunate to encounter several experts who have been conducting cutting-edge research in the science of fatigue. Together, we are now developing technology to estimate fatigue.”
The only hint of news since then was the recent publication of patent applications for what seem to be a similar device—though it’s impossible to determine if those are still relevant.
As part of this phase of the QOL initiative, Nintendo formed an alliance with ResMed, a medical equipment company that specializes in sleep disordered breathing, among other areas. However, ResMed officials also did not respond to requests for comment about the product.
Ultimately, only Nintendo knows where things stand with its QOL plans—and the company is notoriously close-lipped about upcoming projects, as well as cancelled ones. (As Pachter implied, the Vitality Sensor—which was also designed to help people sleep—floated in limbo for four years after its announcement, until Iwata was pressed about its status in an investor Q&A.)
That guardedness has been complicated by Iwata’s illness and death. Pachter says it has been roughly two years since the company has given a thorough update.
“They have been completely invisible as a company since [Iwata] got sick,” he says. “The whole point of helping with lifestyle was getting people to buy more Nintendo devices—and I think they’re hurting so badly in devices that they’re trying to [stop] the hemorrhaging there. … I would say they’re probably focused on just getting their mobile initiative working. That’s far more important than [QOL].”
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