A touching revolution…

Windows 8 is coming and its primary focus is touchscreen devices. This is raising the ire of many people who see it as a dilution of the desktop operating system, however I think that Microsoft are onto the right idea, marrying touch interface with common tasks. I don’t think they’re going about it the right way.

The desktop is as it is – a complex system for production which should stay pretty much unchanged. It serves its purpose, for better or worse, and is flexible enough for most jobs. But the iPad has shown that people don’t always want a production system; they want an entertainment system, for browsing the web, watching TV, playing music. The iPad and it’s ilk give them this, but the main disconnect is not the PC; it’s the TV. Families still congregate in the living room to watch TV, films, play games together. Crowding round a small tablet screen to watch the latest blockbuster or a game doesn’t cut it when you have a big HDTV in the corner of the room. Mr Bravia’s feeling left out, so how can we include him in the entertainment smorgasboard? Apple have tried to do this with their Apple TV, but the requirements are complex and the price prohibitive. Game consoles allow us to use things like Netflilx, LoveFiLM, Sky, but not everyone is comfortable holding a controller, and text input on a joystick is not fun. So how can we bridge this divide?

Say hello to the Nintendo WiiU. The original Wii was the little console that could. Relatively underpowered, it catered to a different audience than the “hardcore” gamers, insinuating itself into many households worldwide. Aside from HD graphics, the U model brings an interesting addition to the table – a touchscreen controller. Many gamers are dismissing this as a gimmick, however I think Nintendo are being very savvy about this and it could hold some interesting applications.

Take for example the fact that we already know it will have Netflix. The marriage of touchscreen and TV interface could mean we’re able to watch on the TV and navigate on the touchscreen. If someone wants to watch TV, we could transfer to the touchscreen and continue watching there (the controller has speakers and a headphones port. There’s no reason we couldn’t use it to run our freeview, with a TV guide on the touchscreen. It’s online, so could we take the controller with us, or even just use it to program recordings remotely like a TiVo box? Stream games, music and other media to the controller over the net.

Once you start to think about how this combination could work the WiiU is no longer a games console but a full on entertainment system in more ways than XBox or Playstation are. Will Nintendo take this approach? Who knows; they’re being rather cagey about the potential applications outside of games. But the idea is there, and I think it’s a clever one.

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