As you may have noticed by now Opera for Wii is out.
I bought a Wii of my own a month or so back, my very first game console. I don’t mind playing games, but I’ve rarely got time for it. I tried a PS2 a few years ago and it was fine but really not too exciting. The gaming industry is far too focussed on graphics, which is much like special effects in movies: the experience may be more immersive but without a good story not worth much, and the gameplay seemed firmly stuck in the early 1990s.
Wii is fun, fast, and friendly, cute Mii avatars and all. That it is less powerful in technical terms than its competitors is actually part of the appeal.
The UI revolutions
Of course what it is really about is the Wii wand (or Wiimote as it unofficially is called) you wield. It is the center-piece in the user interface Revolution, as the device was code-named. The appealing Wii games are the ones where no buttons are pushed, but the wand is an extension of your body.
More ambitious phones all have UI inventions, not all successful. Siemens incorporated the phone camera in an augmented reality game setting, Apple iPhone will bring some improvements in tactile interfaces, a long-standing interest of theirs, other phones have included accelerometers before the Wiimote. Speech interfaces and handwriting recognition have been around for a while. Our mouse gestures had predecessors among computer games such as Black&White. In general games and mobile devices are good places for innovations.
Nintendo has done good work in not just making this a gimmick, but a fairly consistent environment. Some jar a little, the Wiimote is joined by the tail to the nunchuck game console interface (joystick and all), and their mental model are very different. The Wiimote is immersive, it gives you the illusion that your body is part of the game, while the nunchuck unit is manipulative.
But most notable the Wii system is mouse-free. The Wiimote doubles as a true pointing device, you use it to point at the screen, and the infrared lights and Wiimote receptor triangulate to decide what part of the screen it is pointing at. The accelerometers sense motion and rotation, with “rumble” vibration and the speaker giving feedback to the user. There are some oddities. If you point the Wiimote qua pointer outside the screen area you get no indicator other than that the cursor disappears. This can be desirable when you’ve parked the Wiimote, but new, and sometimes experienced, Wiimote operators wonder where the pointer went. An indicator which direction it is pointing to when outside the screen would have been helpful, as would possibly be locking it into the visible area.
We are trained to think that the mouse is a natural user interface. It is not, as anyone witnessing someone learning to use a mouse for the first time can attest to. Outside the workstation the mouse is outside its element. It needs a flat surface and a designated working area where you interact with the application. But this interaction is continuously interrupted when you access the menus, the toolbars, or the scrollbar, and then you have move the pointer back to the starting position again. The one major advance in the fourty year history of the mouse is thus the scroll wheel, though the trackball inverted mouse also deserves mention for foregoing the flat surface and working area. The number of buttons may vary, but the mouse has hardly changed. While it has served the personal computer well, it is less than certain that the mouse has any future as an input mechanism for future devices.
Speaking of buttons, a very common wish for Opera on the Wii is to get a keyboard to actually be able to create more text in reasonable time than most would be able to do on the virtual keyboard. I have no idea whether a wiiboard is in the works or not, though indications are that it is, but many have noted that it could use the Wii USB ports.
I for one hope not. It would be out of character, the user shouldn’t be bondage to the machine like it was some PC. With the Wii Bluetooth capabilities the keyboard should be in the hands of the user where he is, and a Wii player would throw any attempt to tie him down with a wire out the window.
Going wireless adds a battery requirement though. The keyboard could be wired to the Wiimote, depleting the batteries even faster, but you are using rechargeable batteries by now anyway. It might also remove the need for a Bluetooth controller, as the Wiimote supports the Bluetooth HID profile. That would prevent other devices to attach to the Wiimote though. You could almost wish having the devices daisy-chained, with the Wiimote on one side and for instance the Nunchuck on the other. That would come handy for the nose typists among us.
While the mouse could be replaced there aren’t really any current alternative for text input to the keyboard that wouldn’t require even more training to use efficiently, so something QUERTY should be taken as a given. With that as a requirement there are several options. It would be nice to use a foldable compact keyboard, so you could have the same keyboard for your Wii as you would for your phone. But the overlap between heavy phone users (with Opera Mini or Mobile of course) and Wii users is probably not that great.
It would make more sense to consider the Wiiboard a gaming/entertainment controller. Why shouldn’t the keyboard have accelerometers just like the Wiimote and the Nunchuck? While I’m not quite sure I would go for a Wiiboard cum frisbee controller, some Wiiboard gestures could be useful for text handling, user/system actions, and in particular gaming. Even without accelerometers it shouldn’t have to underperform the Classic controller. Some dedicated or user-defined keys could make it quicker to do rote tasks (and rote and Wii shouldn’t belong together). Many channels could benefit from that beyond the Internet channel, like for instance the Photo or Weather channel.