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Could Nintendo Bring Surface Computing to the Masses?

Last night, Nintendo held an investor meeting in Japan revealing their performance over the last quarter. At this meeting it was also revealed that the Wii U controller would have NFC (Near-Field Communication) functionality built in. What exactly does this mean? Nintendo was kind enough to share one example for this new functionality:

By installing this functionality, it will become possible to create cards and figurines that can electronically read and write data via non-contact NFC and to expand the new play format in the video game world.

Its very similar to the idea behind the Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure figurines and associated portal. You take objects that themselves have a NFC chip embedded into them and bring them into close contact with a compatible device and they will instantly transmit information. Very cool. Nintendo has been mum on any other intentions they may have for the device other than a means of making micro-payments easier.

At first glance this news may seem insubstantial beyond that of the inevitable Pokémon game that uses the feature in cards or other merchandise–until you take into account that the Wii U controller is essentially a modestly-sized tablet. In mid-2007 Microsoft unveiled the prototype for a computer that assumed a table form-factor. It was essentially a large multi-touch monitor turned horizontally and mounted on legs. A giant iPad for the living room if you will, intended to introduce the surface computing concept. Its stand-out feature was that it could interact with real-world objects. Now the Surface utilized cameras and later special sensors to tell where the objects were placed. As far as we know, the Wii U (which has also been confirmed to lack multi-touch) does not have such functionality. But what if it did?

The following video for the Microsoft Surface shows some possibilities, including painting with physical paintbrushes that are recognized by the device.

With the addition of NFC chips in objects intended to be used in the interface, all that would be left would be for Nintendo to discover their location in relation to the screen. Something I'm sure they could figure out. Will we see it in the Wii U? Probably not. Will we see it in a future Nintendo console? Maybe. Still, it will be interesting to see the typical twist that Nintendo will apply to NFC with or without object-recognition.

Jan 27, 2012
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