NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The Nintendo 3DS ( NTDOY.PK) is no Game Boy, and the hand-held market it's entering isn't all fun and games.
While the latest offering in Nintendo's DS hand-held gaming line promises gamers a glasses-free view of three-dimensional gaming, it'll be fighting off an increasingly strong field of competitors on multiple fronts. Since the first touchscreen DS appeared in 2004, the line has sold 47.4 million units in the U.S. alone -- more than 10 times the sales tally for Sony's ( SNE) competing PSP and more than 28% more than the 34 million units Nintendo's flagship Wii console has sold since launch, according to the NPD Group. Globally, it has more than doubled the unit sales of Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's ( MSFT) Xbox 360 and unmercifully pummeled its most recent hand-held competitor, the disc-free, download-only PSP Go (for which Sony has never released sales figures).
The hand-held market, however, is a lot more complex than the two-dimensional world the DS dominated when the PSP Go was released two years ago. From October through December of that year, ComScore ( SCOR) says 21.6% of mobile-phone users played games on their phone, though only 17.8% downloaded them as apps. Last year, from September through November, 22.6% of mobile phone users played games on their devices, while 33.4% picked them up as apps. Gartner ( IT), meanwhile, believes last year's more than 4.5 billion mobile app downloads worldwide will jump Mario-style to 21.6 billion in 2013. Unlike Nintendo's old Game Boy, which only had to deal with Sega's unpopular Game Gear hand-held, the DS has the misfortune of squaring off with the smartphone.