Nintendo of America launched the latest iteration of its DS handheld over the weekend, but before retailers could ring up the first DSi XL sale, the company’s Japanese division was already announcing the next model, a 3D handheld due out sometime between June and the end of next March.

The DSi XL ($190) is merely a bigger version of the company’s popular DSi ($170). It’s got a larger screen, but its resolution and functionality are the same. It doesn’t replace the DSi, merely serves as an alternate handheld for adults who found themselves feeling a bit like Gulliver, playing with some Lilliputian gadget, every time we pick up their older, smaller DSes.

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Since Nintendo launched the DS in 2004, it has been followed by the DS Lite, left, the DSi, center, and now the DSi XL, released Sunday.

As an adult with medium- to large-sized hands, I’ve had my eye on the DSi XL. I’ve been intrigued by games on the DS ever since I picked up my DS Lite in 2006, but I’ve never really gotten comfortable with the hardware, which feels more like a child’s toy than any gaming device I’ve owned. The only times I’ve relished playing it were when my nephew, Keondre, and I hooked up for some “New Super Mario Bros.” and when I brought “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney” along for my last jury duty stint.

But now that I know Nintendo’s planning a 3D handheld that won’t require special glasses to work, all bets are off. I’m much more likely to make do with my DS Lite for another year, rather than shell out another $190 for something that could soon be obsolete. If I pick up a DSi XL at all, it’ll be at a discount, and even then I’ll wait until after the 3DS, which might be renamed closer to launch, is unveiled at this June’s E3, so I’ll know how soon I want this thing.

All this, though, is making me wonder about Nintendo’s big-picture handheld strategy. The DS launched in 2004, was succeeded by the DS Lite in 2006 and then the DSi last year. Now we’ve got the DSi XL and presumably a year from now we’ll have another handheld. While the endless tinkering with hardware specs and features likely ensure Nintendo never has to drop the price on its handheld and gets to maximize profit, it’s frustrating for consumers, as these new product launches are arriving with increasing frequency.

From what Nintendo’s Japanese executives are saying, though, it sounds like the 3DS will be a wholly new handheld, so maybe it’ll slow the pace of all this incremental upgrading for a while.

Download doldrums

One more thing those looking to upgrade their DSi should keep in mind is that, thanks to Nintendo’s backward policy regarding downloadable games, downloaded DSi titles won’t transfer over to newly purchased machines. Nintendo simply expects you to buy those games a second time, or keep your old handheld around in case you ever want to play them.

It’s time Nintendo wised up and created some kind of user-based licensing system for its downloadable offerings, similar to what Microsoft has on the Xbox 360 or what Steam offers on the PC. I have bought dozens of downloadable titles for my Xbox 360 because I know my purchases are tied to my online Gamertag, as well as the specific machine I used to buy the games. If I ever replace my Xbox 360, I can transfer all of my downloadable games over to my new console by entering the serial number on Xbox.com.

In contrast, if my Wii ever dies, or if I owned a DSi and that died, all my downloadable games would be lost. If I want to play them again, I have to buy them again. Want to know how many Virtual Console or WiiWare games I’ve bought? Four. Nintendo’s doofus restrictions are directly responsible for that figure.