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Iwata Asks: The Wii U Internet Browser

Last week we reported on a browser efficiency test that ranked Wii U’s web browser as on par with Internet Explorer 10 -a terrific feat for a game console’s proprietary Internet browser! Today, another Iwata Asks interview delivers some specifics about the browser’s capabilities and development.

Read on for my usual bullet-point breakdown of the interview and a quick demo video for the Wii U Internet Browser.

  • Tetsuya Sasaki and Munetaka Tsuda from the Software Development & Design Department will be joining Mr. Iwata in this interview. Mr. Sasaki assembled the design team and turned direction over to Mr. Tsuda to work on the technological side later. He also worked on the Nintendo 3DS web browser.
  • The idea with the Wii U browser was to finally make a really capable web browser for a home console, on par with existing browsers on PC and mobile devices, so Wii U owners might use it daily. Iwata cites the proposal as follows: “We want to make something that you can use then and there if you suddenly want to look something up while you’re playing with your Wii U.” They’re responding to the trend toward using a smartphone or computer to browse while watching TV and building it into the console.
  • “We began development with two outside partners, Access, a company using cutting-edge technology based on WebKit, and HAL Laboratory for the UI as with the Nintendo 3DS.”
  • They worked very hard to make videos run smoothly in the new browser in response to the trend of watching and not just reading and looking things up. You’ll be able to watch the Nintendo Direct presentations on the GamePad or your TV!
  • Iwata: “Of course there have been many devices with Internet browser features for the TV, but I didn’t think any of them have really been quite right. Here at Nintendo, we put the Internet Browser on Wii, but candidly speaking it was never quite what it could be.”
  • Wii U already had the second GamePad screen, so they had to think about how to use the two screens, either together or apart. Early on they settled on being able to make both screens display the same thing, so you could control the browser with the GamePad and even walk away from the TV if you wanted.
  • They also added multi-tasking. You can display one thing on the TV, like a video, while doing something else on the GamePad. It was a really steep challenge to come up with an intuitive way to control this.
  • This is where the “curtain” idea came about. You can hide the TV display while doing things on the GamePad. Showing the two different things eats up a lot of memory, however, so they had to be creative. Already they’re at a disadvantage over PCs, so things needed to be really efficient. They also wanted to be able to seamlessly move back and forth between the browser and the games.
  • The Wii U browser has tabbed browsing.
  • It took about six months of fine-tuning to get it from the “this is the best we can do” phase to something they were truly proud of. Using WebKit, which is open source, meant a lot of tweaking with things like desynchronization until the very end. They managed to achieve a satisfying framerate- 60fps – in the process.
  • They had to build the UI from scratch, since WebKit doesn’t come with anything.
  • “WebKit has a lot of things that haven’t been fine-tuned, for example, the answers to questions like: ‘How should it create images separated in layers, and then how should they be combined, what size should it be, and does it scroll nicely?’ So putting that all together and tuning it in a way that works well is extremely important, and that’s where the engineers at HAL Laboratory really came through.”
  • When Iwata brought in some people from the overseas department, they were most impressed by Wii U’s web browser: “I’d never think this was part of a game console. It’s a really useful browser.”
  • Operating speed was a priority right from the beginning, even as they were working out functionality. As a result, they were able to do a good job optimizing it throughout the entire process. They needed to address problems like sites running slowly, not responding to touch input, and so on. Their partner companies really went above and beyond to address these issues.
  • Mr. Miyamoto suggested that they allow you to magnify text to make it easier to read on the GamePad.
  • At first they included horizontal and vertical scrolling with the GamePad’s gyro functions, but they eventually limited this to vertical scrolling because most websites nowadays don’t require much horizontal scrolling. This could be easier on your fingers than having to slide the screen all the time.
  • Sasaki: “Related to our discussion of video, there are two separate types of content on the Internet: Things that are perfect for viewing on a computer or smart devices, and things that you want to see on a larger screen. And the Wii U Internet browser is perfect for both types of content.
  • Iwata: “A television isn’t very good for reading, inputting text or pointing to something. Screens closer to your eyes have the advantage over TV for these activities. But when it comes to watching video, there’s nothing more comfortable than the TV, and you can watch with a large group of people. And if you have the Wii U, you can use it to write and read, and point, and of course watch it on a big screen TV. Putting the two together creates something really interesting that people can enjoy together.”
  • They ran lots of website tests to make sure the web browser was as functional as possible. They don’t want to release the Wii U browser as if it’s in beta like most other browsers.
  • Their testing cycle lasted for six months. They’d see how the browser handled different HTML specifications, even how it handled the gradual changes to websites over time. At the peak of testing, they had 30 people testing over 5,000 sites. They hoped to automate the process as much as possible, but that only goes so far.
  • “We actually had the testers visit and verify each website with their own eyes, and made sure there wasn’t any issues when comparing it to how they are displayed on a standard browser.”
  • You can use the D-pad and other face buttons to control the browser, or you can use the touch screen and gyro controls on the Wii U GamePad.
  • It’s made so you can navigate it as if it was a video game. The +Control Pad toggles the focus, the L and R Sticks will adjust the zoom on the entire website, and the A Button is the confirm button. Of all the built-in applications, I think the Internet Browser is the only one with this much buttons that can be used with it. Like pressing the L Stick will hide the tool bar, which will give more room to display the website.
  • They’ve used a JavaScript extension to get websites to recognize the buttons and gyro sensor so people can build their sites to take advantage of the GamePad.
  • Nintendo played around with some special GamePad site options at the office: “For example, if you have a site with a map and if you can make it so that the Wii U players can use the analog stick to zoom in and out on the map, the operation becomes very smooth. It’s a totally different style from the mouse or touch screen we’ve had up until now, and it felt really new.”
  • There’s a little Mii character in the bottom corner that corresponds to your user account, and a bunch of Easter Eggs to discover! For example, if a website takes a long time to load, the Mii might fall asleep.
  • Tap the Mii and he’ll open a book containing your personal bookmarks and other account-based browser info.
  • “Nintendo European Research and Development SAS France (NERD) helped us with our video player and Nintendo Software Technology (NST) helped with WebKit’s JavaScript JIT, so this new Internet Browser really came about with help from so many different people outside the company.”
  • NERD helped a lot specifically with video playback.
  • Iwata’s closing remarks: “I want a variety of different people to experience the convenience of this function so that they can very casually use it, even to a point of almost not noticing that they are surfing with a video game device and, furthermore, we want to prove to them through this Wii U Internet Browser that browsing itself can be an entertainment. Thank you both so much for coming today.”

Source: Iwata Asks, NintenDaanNC on YouTube

  • http://www.facebook.com/charles.crowe.16 Charles Crowe

    “The idea with the Wii U browser was to finally make a really
    capable web browser for a home console, on par with existing browsers on
    PC and mobile devices, so Wii U owners might use it daily”
    I’m not sure how well that will work out since it does not support any type of add ons. No java, No Flash. Sure HTML is set to be the standard but so was Blu ray and we see where that is today. Imagine if a company made a player that only played Blu Ray 8 years ago because Blu Ray was the future. No DVDs and no streaming. This is what the browser reminds me of. Sure it could support 100% of the internet but what happens if something better than HTML5 comes along? You left yourself no way to support it.