Nintendo held a media summit here in San Francisco yesterday, and while the biggest buzz was centered around holiday games and the upcoming DSi, I’m way more excited by the announcement that a Wii Speak Channel will launch this November. I’m calling it “Skype for the living room.”
The Wii Speak peripheral, a multidirectional “community microphone” with a reception radius of up to 12 feet, was mentioned this summer, but only in relation to the upcoming online game Animal Crossing: City Folk. Now Nintendo tells us they’re also going to sell Wii Speak separately, and that it’ll come with its own non-game Wii Channel, where you can communicate simultaneously with up to three other Wii owners. (Assuming they also have Wii Speak, and you’ve all exchanged friend codes.) You’ll also be able to use the channel to leave voice mails and exchange image files.
The reason I’ve dubbed the Wii Speak Channel Skype for the living room, however, is because it’s a VoIP communication device that doesn’t depend on a computer or a headset mic. If it works as billed, it could be used not only to make free person-to-person calls, but to hold conversations between entire rooms full of people. Of course the Nintendo exec who briefed me kept emphasizing the gameplay possibilities, and those are nice. But considering the tens of millions of people around the world, from every walk of life, who already own the Wii (it’s forecast to be in 30 percent of all American homes by 2011), the Wii Speak Channel has the potential to become a popular communication alternative over the next decade. Throw in a large enough networking effect, and it could even wind up as pervasive as Skype itself. That’s on the highly optimistic end, of course; at the very least, it’ll be a fun-and-games speakerphone for Wii owners.