Will Wii Remake the Web?

This week, the Wii’s Internet Channel became fully operational, boasting improved features like manual zoom and collapsible toolbars, powered by Opera; judging by gamer site commentary, the reception from Wii owners is largely positive, with the only major gripe being it doesn’t (yet) support all the standard Web plug-ins. From one angle, this is just a nice online feature for Nintendo fans. But I think it’s a lot more than that — this could be the day when the PC begins losing its centrality to the Internet. (So goes the Wii, so goes the Web.)

Consider: according to a recent Merrill-Lynch study, by 2011, an astounding 30% of American households will own a Wii. If that estimate holds up (and given the Wii’s still-thundering sales figures, there’s no reason to doubt it), about one out of every three U.S. homes will soon have a new kind of Web browser sitting in their living room.

The obvious immediate objection, or course, is “who’s going to browse the Web without a keyboard?” The most obvious immediate answer: the very young, who already send text messages over their cellphones more than they send IMs over their computers. They’ll acclimate quickly to the keyboard-free Web, and being so popular, developers will figure out ways to integrate the Wii’s pointer/nunchuck controller to Web apps which make the experience increasingly intuitive. (Of course, Nintendo could always go the Xbox route, too, and add a keyboard peripheral for us old school Netizens.)

Couple the Wii’s Internet Channel with the company’s stylus-operated DS handheld getting an Opera browser in June, and it’s easy to see Nintendo becoming the dominant Internet hardware company a few years down the road. Couple that to the growing sophistication and popularity of Web-integrated cellphones, and it’s difficult to see the PC remaining our main means for accessing the Internet for much longer. And if the personal computer is no longer essential to the Internet, what happens to all the industries built around it?