When Nintendo released its Wii gaming system
back in 2006, it promised to redefine the gaming experience - not because of enhanced graphics and immersive sound, but because of its revolutionary motion sensitive controller. If you've never played a game on the Wii, you may not know what I'm talking about, but suffice it to say that it offers a much more intuitive experience than traditional button-based controllers.
When I sat down with Navin Natoewal, general manager of the uWand product at Philips at The Cable Show, my initial thought, when he explained he was going to talk about a remote control device, was, "What can possibly be so exciting about a remote control, when there are so many exciting real applications
on the show floor?"
Well, that's where the Wii experience comes in. The uWand remote control
is actually less remote control than it is Wii controller. It features only three buttons (OK, Home, and Back), and features an accelerometer that enables all other capabilities in conjunction with the OK button.
Natoewal explained that the premise is quite basic and solves the problem nearly all communications and entertainment application and product developers seek to address: ease of use
"It's about simplifying the user interface by moving from a traditional button-based remote control to a pointing device," he said. "Research shows that the controller and UI have a significant impact on user sentiment."
In fact, of the users that have tested the uWand, 77 percent say they prefer the pointer (add one more to the list). And why not? With the pointer, just as with the Wii system, you can quickly navigate across an entire screen, allowing application developers to leverage the full real estate of the screen rather than relying on smaller menus for navigation. Or, when viewing the EPG, users can easily select a program on the right-hand side of the screen without having to click through each previous programming choice. Instead, simply move the pointer to your selection and click - just like using a mouse on your PC.
The features extend far beyond that, though.
Depending on the specific application and setup, a flick of the wrist can adjust the volume, scroll through the EPG, or forward through content. Or, in a picture viewing application, holding the OK button will allow dragging of an image across the screen (much like dragging and dropping with your mouse), or use the same feature in the EPG to move content into a PVR feature.
Back to the picture viewer, though. Perhaps the coolest of the features was the ability to zoom in and out with a natural forward or backward movement of the uWand. The same capability can easily be built into content, allowing users to zoom in or out to enhance their viewing experience. Imagine leveraging the capability in instant replay at sporting events. Review officials can easily zoom in on a close play at home to determine whether the runner scored or was out.
Incidentally, the demos I saw are only the beginning. For instance, with all the social media applications being integrated into nearly every communications platform, it's easy to imagine Facebook, Twitter, and other applications quickly becoming part of the on-screen viewing experience. For those, a BlackBerry-style keyboard can easily be built into the front or back of the uWand, depending on the orientation of the keyboard.
But the on-screen experience itself is only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to STBs and media players, game consoles, and other similar devices, future applications in a connected home environment will include lighting systems, digital photo frames, and anything else you can control remotely, not to mention potential applications in healthcare, education, and business collaboration.
Natoewal says the uWand will be commercially available sometime in 2011 so, until then, if you haven't yet, go get yourself a Wii and get used to the intuitive controller experience that will soon take over your home electronics experience.
Incidentally, don't think is the last time Nintendo plans on delivering cutting edge technology to the consumer market - by the end of the year, it says it will be shipping a 3D version
of it handheld DS gaming device.