Nintendo’s Wii U takes its cues from the iPad

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Nintendo unveiled its next generation console today, with the Wii U. The Wii U has a new controller that features a 6.2-inch touchscreen built-in, which effectively acts as a tablet. We couldn’t help but think that Nintendo, far from innovating in this instance, borrowed liberally from the iPad and the way people use it for gaming and watching TV.

Two-screen gaming has a history that predates Apple’s iPad, and Nintendo proved that it works for portable gaming with the DS, which launched in 2004 and has been successful ever since, but the iPad is the one that made it make sense for TV gaming. Ever since Big Bucket Software used the iPad and the iPhone to create a working beta of The Incident running on one and controlled by the other, the potential for Apple to become a force in living room gaming seemed limited only by developer creativity. More recently, Real Racing HD 2 expanded on that concept with a true two-screen gaming experience for the iPad.

Nintendo Wii U extracts the two-screen experience from the model used by Real Racing HD 2 and discards most of the rest. The Wii U controller can’t act independent of the Wii U console, but it can handle gaming visuals entirely on its own screen, and it appears to support stylus input for functions beyond gaming, like drawing.

Making two-screen gaming the entire focus of Nintendo’s next-gen console is a very smart move at this point, since it’s happening before the concept takes off in a big way with iOS devices. It should work out well for Nintendo, but it could be even better for Apple device owners in the long run, if the Wii U concept inspires iOS developers to take two-screen gaming further.

Of course, gaming isn’t the only thing iPad users do in front of their TV. Television viewers have been distracting themselves with laptops and mobile phones for years, and the iPad was lends itself to be the ideal second screen device. Nielsen said in May that 70 percent of all tablet owners use their devices while watching TV. And last year, a study found that 86 percent of all mobile users access the Internet while watching TV.

Nintendo also added some media sharing features that were clearly inspired by efforts to use the iPad as a second-screen device. Wii U users will be able to flick photos and videos that they find online towards the TV to watch them on the big screen, something Yahoo demonstrated at this year’s CES, and a key feature of Apple’s AirPlay technology. And the handheld controller will feature a front-facing camera to give users a chance to video chat while watching TV — a feature that will sound familiar to any iPad user as well.

Nintendo obviously concentrated on gaming during the introduction of the Wii U, but we shouldn’t be too surprised if the new controller was being utilized for other kinds of second-screen activity like Twitter and Facebook that has so far been the domain of the iPad as well.

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