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Nintendo VP Cammie Dunaway initially stated that “just as you can currently buy a DS in Japan and use it here in the US, you should be able to do that with DSi,“ but by "you should be able to," she apparently meant "it would be nice if you could," not "you probably will."
According to what Nintendo is telling Eurogamer, because of the advanced communication abilities that the DSi features, the system must now be kinda region locked. In their words, this is a necessity “because DSi embeds net communication functionality within itself and we are intending to provide net services specifically tailored for each region.“ They go on to mention that the DSi will contain parental controls and region coding is needed to compensate for the unique standards of age-appropriate content in different countries. To be fair, that part in particular does make sense.
There is some good news for importers in that the locks will only apply to software created specifically for the DSi. Older DS software and new games that do not utilize any DSi exclusive features will still continue to play on any region's DSi, but if you import a Japanese handheld, don't expect to just waltz into your local Target and pick up the latest Animal Crossing. In addition, while most software over the short term will probably still be made for the larger DS Lite user base, this won't last forever and likely has further implications on any future handhelds Nintendo releases.
Many hardcore gamers will be disappointed that they'll no longer be able to import designer DS models that aren't available in the states and Ms. Dunaway herself mentions that she carries a Japanese DS because she likes a color that she couldn't get here. Realistically, the largest percentage of DS owners are kids and casual gamers who'll never know the difference, but with a Nintendo spokesman recently saying that the initial market for the hardware will in fact be hardcore gamers, this may upset a big chunk of the early adopters. Worse yet, combined with the new permanent storage options, the locks will likely promote people to work that much harder to find home-brew solutions that will inevitably lead to increased piracy.
Ultimately, Nintendo is likely aware of this gamble and has still decided that it's a worthwhile trade-off - don't plan on this changing at the last minute due to a firestorm of whining on message-boards.