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The Icon Bar: News and features: Nintendo's cunning Wiis

Nintendo's cunning Wiis

Posted by Phil Mellor on 12:00, 16/2/2007 | , , , ,
WiiA couple of months have passed since the Wii was released in Europe. Even with some smashing launch games, such as Wii Sports, Twilight Princess and Rayman Raving Rabbids, the innovative 'channels' interface fell a little short of expectations beyond the Miis and Wii Shop. Nintendo's promise was of new channels designed to appeal to traditionally non-game playing family members, and to give everybody a compelling reason to regularly turn on the machine. Those channels have arrived - the most recent (and strange) appeared out of the blue earlier this week. Here's my review.

Forecast Channel

The globe really is beautiful. Pointing at the screen and dragging causes it to spin smoothly and gracefully - with just a little momentum as it slows. Although it's no Google Earth, the map is detailed enough when zooming in and out. If you zoom out far enough you see stars above the planet - I'm not an astronomer but apparently they're accurate.
You can cycle between current and future weather, symbols and temperatures, or click on a place name for a little more detail - with sound effects. The five day forecast seems limited to your own country or continent which I suppose is to restrict the amount of data that needs to be downloaded in the background by WiiConnect 24.

Forecast channel Forecast channel

I'm have doubt over the accuracy of the actual weather reports. British weather is notoriously changeable - we get quite worried if the weather stays the same for more than a couple of days - and the data is not granular enough to make useful predictions. The data updates approximately every six hours, so the 'current' forecast could be hours into the past; and the weather stations are quite spread out, although most major UK cities are covered.
That said, it's still great fun to spin the globe to reaffirm that it's still snowing in Antarctica and sunny in Vegas. The background music changes according to the time of day, and makes for quite a therapeutic experience at the end of a busy day (providing there's nobody else around: if there are additional Wii remotes in the room they can be used simultaneously to fight for control of the world.)

News Channel

So long Ceefax, welcome to the 21st century. Nintendo teamed up with Associated Press to provide the news channel - which is either a remarkable in-depth news resource, or a glorified RSS reader, depending on how cynical you are. I think it's great, and use it far more than the weather forecasts. It was even spotted in the BBC newsroom during a live World Business Report broadcast.

News channel News channel

The news channel borrows the forecast globe to show reports from around the world. When appropriate, the location of the current story will be shown down one side of the screen. Clicking it opens the globe, allowing you to spin it to find and read stories geographically. It's a nice trick, especially as you zoom in and out and the icons flutter and regroup.
There's also a slideshow mode - which operates much like Sky News in an airport hotel. It swoops around the world, showing the headlines and associated photos, and you can press a button to read the current story. Again the music and graphics indicate the effort Nintendo has gone to in the presentation and execution of the concept. It just oozes quality.

Internet Channel

I've rarely been impressed web browsers running on set top boxes, consoles, and mobile devices (and, I admit it, RISC OS) but the Internet Channel has by far the best web browser I've seen away from a 'proper' computer. The Opera web browser is free to download from the Wii Shop until June (after which it will be priced at around £3). It's currently a 'trial' (i.e.. beta) version, and at times it shows, mainly in the interface.

Internet channel Internet channel Internet channel

Scrolling is a chore at times, and having to return to the home page to enter a new URL is annoying. Although the Wii has anti-aliased fonts, they're not as good as the Acorn system, and it's often necessary to zoom in to read small text. You can toggle display modes between the default 'pan and zoom' method (which renders web pages very accurately) and a 'rubbish PDA' mode that has much bigger and readable text. Although the browser copes well considering the visual limitations of a standard television, it's also the one application which makes you wish Nintendo had implemented high resolution HDTV output.
The browser is technically very competent - it behaves much like Opera does on a PC or Mac. It supports all the modern flavours of HTML, CSS, Javascript, and can even play streaming MP3s and display Flash animations and videos (but not Java). This makes it perfect for showing visitors your latest Flickr and YouTube collections, without having to boot up the computer and huddle around the monitor, hoping they won't notice the porn collection saved to your desktop. I think the internet channel would also be really useful for people who aren't confident or experienced with computers (old people, for example) because although I've criticised the interface for being basic, it's also very simple to use. For the long-sighted, browsing on the TV is probably more comfortable than using a computer monitor.
The internet channel is good, but I hope that for the next release Nintendo and Opera make the text more legible and the improve the interface to make substantial browsing sessions more comfortable.

Everybody Votes Channel

Finally we come to the latest channel addition - Everybody Votes. It's a quirky little feature that asks you a series of inane questions, such as "Do you prefer boiled or fried eggs?", "Do you believe in aliens?" or "Which are better, cats or dogs?" Well, there's only one way to find out... FIIIIIGHT!
I jest. A bit. The above questions are genuine examples, but you vote by grabbing your Mii and placing him or her on your chosen answer, which is sent off to Nintendo through your internet tubes. The fun comes in predicting what the result of the poll will be - your prediction is also registered.

Everybody Votes channel Everybody Votes channel Everybody Votes channel

When the results come in, you can compare votes by region and sex (I've already learned that the majority of men prefer fried eggs), and as more polls are completed it's possible to compare your profile to the national average - I'm currently 82 meters from popular opinion, whatever that means.
Everybody Votes is a game in disguise, and it's surprisingly addictive, especially for a number junkie. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I plan on visiting the channel regularly. New questions appear every couple of days (and you can submit your own), ensuring people like me keep tuning in. It's a sneaky marketing tool for Nintendo too, even though the population sample is far from random.

Closing thoughts

As I spend more time with the Wii, two notions persist. The first is that it reminds me very much of my early computing experiences with the Acorn Electron. Wii Play is the Welcome Tape. The Everybody Votes channel is the sort of program you'd type in from Acorn User's yellow pages, only with online participation instead of rounding up your classmates. It's how computing used to be before it got bogged down with office applications and phrases like "information technology".
My second thought is that the Wii does everything Acorn tried to do with their NetStation flop - but this time it succeeds. The hardware's cheap and cheerful; simple but effective. Acorn even planned to emulate Megadrive and SNES games on the NetStation; something that the Wii's virtual console now does with aplomb. Also, the interface and applications have been designed by games programmers, just like the early versions of the Arthur and RISC OS desktops. The Wii news, weather and voting channels are full of energy, and a pleasure to use.

  Nintendo's cunning Wiis
  monkeyson2 (14:39 16/2/2007)
  flibble (16:53 16/2/2007)
    monkeyson2 (00:55 17/2/2007)
      druck (09:24 17/11/2008)
Phil Mellor Message #98712, posted by monkeyson2 at 14:39, 16/2/2007
monkeyson2Please don't let them make me be a monkey butler

Posts: 12380
Hmm, the forecast shown in the second screenshot actually turned out to be quite accurate.

Scattered showers all day!
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Peter Howkins Message #98720, posted by flibble at 16:53, 16/2/2007, in reply to message #98712

Posts: 891
Now if only they could get some in the shops.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Phil Mellor Message #98739, posted by monkeyson2 at 00:55, 17/2/2007, in reply to message #98720
monkeyson2Please don't let them make me be a monkey butler

Posts: 12380
Now if only they could get some in the shops.
They can. Unfortunately silly people keep buying them to sell on.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
David J. Ruck Message #108789, posted by druck at 09:24, 17/11/2008, in reply to message #98739
Posts: 9
I feel quite defrauded that this page doesn't feature a larger version of the picture I clicked to get here. Drool
  ^[ Log in to reply ]

The Icon Bar: News and features: Nintendo's cunning Wiis