Why the Wii Could Win the World (but Probably Won't)

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 (s msft) and Sony (s sne) 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. [digg=http://digg.com/nintendo/Why_the_Wii_Could_Win_the_World_but_Probably_Won_t/]

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 (s yhoo) web portal would greatly increase its popular appeal; a version of Opera robust enough for, say, watching Quicktime movies, editing Google (s goog) 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 (s aapl) 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 (s amzn) 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