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Last month I had the chance to chat with a top U.S. Nintendo exec and suggest how, with a few savvy improvements to the Wii system, the company could turn it into the living room Net appliance of choice. But despite the opportunity Nintendo has with […]

wii-wonder Last month I had the chance to chat with a top U.S. Nintendo exec and suggest how, with a few savvy improvements to the Wii system, the company could turn it into the living room Net appliance of choice. But despite the opportunity Nintendo has with the Wii, the company seems determined to let it remain a mere video game console.

Big-screen HDTVs have reached a price point of several hundred dollars. That means consumers are now bringing home television displays both large and crisp enough for browsing the Net from their couches. And all the latest video game consoles come with Net access. Yet the Xbox 360 and Sony PS3, despite attempts to broaden their user base and include new mainstream-friendly features, seem unable to expand beyond their niche audience of hardcore gamers. Meanwhile, the Wii’s global install base is already double that of its competitors combined — and its growth shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, Merrill Lynch expects the console, which has attracted buyers from both genders and across the demographic spectrum, to reside in one of three households by 2011.

Add to this the Wii’s innovative Wiimote, which is essentially a 3D mouse, and thus ideally suited for the speedy, point/click/drag navigation that a true big-screen Internet experience requires.

With that in mind, I think Nintendo would only need to add three features in order to win it the world — or at least, the world’s living rooms.

1. Full-featured, optimized web browser

The Opera browser that comes pre-installed in the Wii is no-frills, and frustrating to use. A Yahoo-style web portal would greatly increase its popular appeal; a version of Opera robust enough for, say, watching Quicktime movies, editing Google Docs, and playing casual Flash games, would be even more compelling. Add a Nintendo-branded keyboard peripheral, and your game console suddenly becomes a low-budget, cloud-computing PC.

2. iTunes-like interface for purchasing content with Wii Points

Wii Points already links virtual currency to users’ credit cards, but other than casual and classic video games sold in the remarkably crippled Wii Channels, there’s little to actually buy with them. Wii Points cry out for purchasable movies, music, and other audio/video content, but none have been forthcoming. (The lack of a hard drive for downloading content is, of course, part of the problem.) Why stop there? Imagine if a site like Amazon were added to Wii Channels and accepted Nintendo’s currency. The Wii would become an online retail shopping appliance, too.

3. Multiplatform social network with seamless chat/IM

With little ability to really interact across the Net, the Wii’s cute-but-trivial Miis are avatars without an MMO or a social network to give them a community. Linked to Facebook, the iPhone, Nintendo’s handheld DS, and other platforms, Miis would become your “home” avatar, the communication stream you’d use from your couch.

While the Nintendo exec I spoke with listened attentively, he explained that such features don’t fit the company’s main goal: to provide a platform for fun and games. For the moment, then, the Wii seems destined to become this generation’s Playstation 2 — an epically popular game console, but little else. Which is a shame, because if Nintendo misses out on this opportunity, we do, too.

Image credit: wii.com

  1. You know, in 1980 they said that the Walkman was going to be a flop because it didn’t have speakers and a FM radio receiver. Because naturally people want a high-end experience in all their devices, and it’s only natural for people to want all the functionality in a single device. Right?

    I don’t need my video game machine to be a media hub. I would prefer a dedicated media hub (Apple TV, Roku, Tivo) because the media hub user experience for game consoles is terrible.

    I also don’t need my game console to be a web browser (I have a laptop with a keyboard for that).

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  2. “to provide a platform”

    I dont see why Nintendo has to provide those features – they just provide the platform. I would love to purchase the Opera game… or the “movie rental” game.
    I would even buy the hard drive add-on where I could store the movies I got while playing the “purchase movies” game.

    If Nintendo is building a gaming platform, it seems reasonable that they’d provision for games that make heavy use of the internet, and for hardware add-ons.

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  3. I think that there is a much more important missing feature than the “social network” fluff – regular DVD playback. It is incredible that Nintendo hasn’t allowed official DVD player functionality for Wii yet, even as an add-on.

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  4. Add streaming music from your PC or subscription service and an AppleTV like interface and it’d definitely be a killer…

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  5. Do you even know the specs of the wii? it’s basically a gamecube, a system running on a G3 from 1998!

    Flash won’t work in it, and it’s going to have a hard time playing the new video formats out there.

    The problem with the wii is that it was never meant to go against the PS3 and X360, but be a new kind of inexpensive console built mostly for casual gamers.

    With that in mind, what you propose is like saying “hey, there’s more Scion’s than BMW’s on the street, maybe Toyota should add a V6+DSG to the xB!”

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  6. I could see those being useful… but one of the Wii’s strengths, in my opinion, is that it isn’t so broadly focused. It has a very narrow focus… it just plays games. It does some other stuff too, but does it less efficiently. I’ve read news through it, checked weather through it, surfed the Net with it… but it was always clear that this was a game machine, which is something that the other two lack, trying to be a whole home entertainment experience.

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  7. It will be Interesting to see if Opera when it releases the Wii Browser 2.0 in December sometime will upgrade the Flash version to flash 9 at least .

    Maybe you should of asked the Wii Exec about the Wiiware platform and Everybody’s Theater that is going to be launched in Japan a TV and Movie PPV service that can play various video codecs including H.264.

    http://www.siliconera.com/2008/10/28/streaming-movietv-service-coming-to-the-wii-in-december/

    The Wii is capable of Playing video just look at the Nintendo Channel but dont expect Nintendo to be creating their own Content service when they can get a 3rd party to develop a service on the Wiiware platform .

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  8. Nintendo is smart to focus on being the best in a lucrative niche (family games) and enable others to perform the heavy speculative lifting – either on their platform or off it. Nintendo still has room to press its lead on the Wii and DS as is. They shouldn’t dilute their focus trying to compete in areas where others are already dominant and they have no core competency.

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  9. I agree: I feel the Wii is especially popular with families who have young families or those who (obviously) don’t have high needs for high specced machines. By combining the Web and Games (most popular among youth) parents have the ultimate entertainment system on which their kids can play and surf in the living room; there were parents can easily keep an eye on them.

    I don’t agree the Wii doesn’t have enough computing power, it already does flash well enough for youtube and I’m sure future (customized) versions could be easily improved.

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  10. [...] Why the Wii Could Win the World (but Probably Won’t) [...]

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