So this week’s huge news in the console wars comes once again from Nintendo, during yesterday’s press conference in New York: the Wii will let you browse the web. “You can download an Opera browser using Wii points and surf the web,” Nintendo’s Perrin Kaplan told the audience, almost parenthetically.
Game blogs were decidedly more excited about other tidbits from that news conference, like the price ($249), for example, and the games available during the November release (the latest installment of their much-loved Zelda franchise, along with numerous third-party titles.) Meanwhile, the business-minded were probably more interested in the unprecedented announcement that Nintendo expects the Wii to be profitable on release.
To me, however, the big picture part is Wii’s web browser functionality, the first next generation console to offer it. (Ironically, while the Xbox is often seen as Microsoft’s play to sneak computing out of the home office and into the living room, the Xbox 360 doesn’t come with a browser.)
On the gamer blogosphere, skeptics are wondering who would want to browse the Web on a standard, non-high definition TV, but I think that’s looking at the question upside down. The advantage the Wii has over other would-be console-based browsers is its wireless, wand-like control, with a laser pointer-style interface, and motion/orientation detection– in effect, it could work as a kind of 3D mouse. That alone makes it a more intuitive solution to browsing with a console, and even assuming the Opera browser will be the standard, 2D interface we’re familiar with. It’s easy to imagine a more object and icon-oriented version of Opera which turns the web from a traditional point-and-click affair into a Wii-powered exercise in 3D web surfing.
That last part, of course, is pure speculation on my part. The moment I heard the news of Wii and Opera, I fired off an e-mail to a Nintendo PR executive, demanding more details, but they steadfastly refused to offer any until a few weeks before the November launch. So until then, we’ll be wait-and-see with web on the Wii.