Apple’s iPad gaming future bright as Nintendo abstains

The iPad (s aapl) gaming community is big and getting bigger, according to a new report from market research firm Interpret. Total iPad gamers number 8 million out of 11.4 million iPad owners in the U.S. alone, according to Interpret. It’s a growing community in terms of both straight numbers and also in terms of percentage of the overall iPad owner pool, according to the firm, but at least one game maker seems firmly committed to ignoring the opportunity inherent in that growth.

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata reiterated Thursday that his company is not interested in making software for iPads or iPhones. He told Japanese news site Nikkei (via The Loop) that in fact, such a plan “is absolutely not under consideration,” because in doing so, “Nintendo would cease to be Nintendo.”

Yet preserving what it means to be Nintendo may be giving up a key position in the future of gaming. “Collectively, iPad gamers are showing slightly decreased involvement with gaming on home consoles, mobile phones, and Nintendo handheld consoles,” said Interpret analyst Jason Preston in a press release. “These facts imply that iPad game developers and publishers can definitely reach a new audience on the iPad.”

The iPad’s appeal extends not only to traditional console gamers, but also to a growing portion of people new to digital gaming, says Interpret. People who use their iPads for gaming are increasingly older, with 40 percent falling into the 35-to-65 age group category during its second quarter 2011 survey vs. just 31 percent from its first survey period last year. Many more women are playing, too. Interpret found that the share of female iPad gamers was up to 48 percent during its most recent poll, vs. just 40 percent in 2010.

iPad gamers who are also console gamers also represents a shrinking percentage of the overall group.

It’s understandable sentiment that Iwata would want to preserve Nintendo as-is, as he’s been Nintendo’s president since 2002 and saw it through the flush years of the Wii and DS, both of which were massive successes for the Japanese-based game-maker. Nintendo has also been in the gaming hardware business since 1977, so it has a long history of making both systems and games.

But there are a number of sound business reasons why Nintendo should consider making software for Apple, including flagging sales of its own hardware, a shaky future for new and upcoming devices like the 3DS and Wii U, and the successful example of other companies who’ve followed the same path in the past, like one-time rival Sega (s sega).

Nintendo wants a comeback, and I’d like to see it get one, but with the release of 3DS peripherals that correct obvious oversights in the original design, and reports that the Wii U is facing serious technical problems, Iwata’s outright refusal to even consider iOS development seems like yet another backwards step.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Vincent Diamante