It’s hard not to be excited when Nintendo unveils a new piece of hardware. At its E3 2011 presentation, that’s exactly what happened: in 2012 we will finally have a new piece of gaming hardware to replace the aging Nintendo Wii.
What’s interesting is the tablet that comes attached with each controller. It’s a six-inch touch screen tablet, that is not tethered to the console in any way. It can do internet browsing, and video and voice chat thanks to an in built camera. Critically; it can be played without the Wii U console itself being turned on.
The theory is that you’ll be able to take the tablet with you on the road and play minigames that can help your ‘main game’ progress on the WiiU when you get back home.
At home, that touch screen will act as a second gameplay screen to what’s happening on-screen – so managing inventory, looking at maps or receiving instructions will be an improved, more seamless experience.
It remains to be seen what, if any, software takes advantage of this potential. But just looking at the potential of the Nintendo tablet device in itself, it looks like the gaming giant really does see Apple as its greatest threat in the market, despite its fervent claims otherwise, because that tablet has clearly been designed from the ground up to offer a ‘better’ gaming alternative to the iPad.
By sticking buttons onto a tablet device, Nintendo is clearly aiming to provide a more comfortable tablet gaming experience. One of the problems many level at Apple devices for gaming is that virtual buttons simply do not feel responsive enough. It’s a legitimate complaint in many cases – though Angry Birds plays fine with a simple tap and flick, a Call of Duty game really does need buttons and control sticks to work properly.
The Wii U will also be the first time a tablet has been designed with gaming in mind. While Apple has faced competition from Android, RIM and (in the near future) Windows tablets, those have all tried to compete on the same ground.
The Wii U tablet, on the other hand, will be the first time Apple’s dominance in tablet games has been challenged. Nintendo has its own online shopping infrastructure as a legacy from the Wii to build on, and though the Wii U tablet will not likely have an email application, it will be the only tablet to boast Nintendo’s software support. In essence, it’s easy to imagine Nintendo building a gaming-orientate ‘app store.’
Given Apple sells more gaming apps than anything else, this is going to be an interesting potential battleground in the future.
As a consumer, though, it annoys me somewhat that there is yet another device that I’ll likely be carrying around with me. I already have an iPhone, iPad and Nintendo 3DS – all of which are only truly functional when carried around. I’ve already given up on taking the Amazon Kindle and PSP around – though I love them, it’s just one device too many.
Carrying around a second tablet because it does games better than the iPad just highlights a problem rapidly hitting the consumer electronics space – device sprawl is now becoming too much to handle. As a gamer, the potential is there that I might want to carry around no less than six devices (add in the PlayStation Vita, because that looks like a lot of fun). Heaven forbid I should want to do some real work and need a laptop as well.
Even non-gamers or more casual gamers will have three or four devices. And that means some really good technology will pass them by.
It’s time for some consolidation. Since Nintendo and Apple are clearly shooting for the same dollars with portable gaming, I wish one would hurry up and acquire the other. It would be a great fit for both companies – and as cool as the Wii U tablet seems to be, having an iPad as my Nintendo controller, and then having it for all the work applications as well, would be so much better.