Three Key Takeaways From Nintendo’s Wii U (Plus Photos!)

Nintendo unveiled its next-generation console this morning at E3, shocking the industry with the first tablet-sized controller for gaming in the home.

The Japanese-based games company has revolutionized the market before, and after today’s announcement, it’s obvious that it wants to do it again.

Nintendo did not offer any details on price or timing–other than that it will come out next year. But in the presentation this morning and in a hands-on briefing for media following the announcement, we got a good look at some of the Wii U’s capabilities and how it could change the way we play games in front of the TV.

As the major implications of the device are processed over the next year, here are the three major takeaways from today’s announcement:

1. The Wii U marks the entrance of Nintendo into hardcore games:

Up until now, Nintendo has served a family-friendly niche with games like Super Mario Bros. and Zelda. But going forward, it’s branching into its competitors’ territory by making the Wii U hardware capable of supporting HD graphics and hardcore game play.

During the press conference, game publishers said they would support this move by developing hardcore games for the Wii U.

John Riccitiello, the CEO of Electronic Arts, said over the years he’s made several appearances on stage at E3 to support his partners, but this was the first time he has ever done it for Nintendo. “Imagine a shooter like Battlefield with jaw-dropping graphics brought to you on a Nintendo system with a break-through controller,” he said.

Here’s a look at the quality of graphics on the TV:

The Wii U controller also has high-end graphics, too:

2. The Wii U will compete for the iPad’s time:

In many ways, Nintendo is not just competing against Microsoft’s Xbox or Sony’s PlayStation, but any device that people are using in the home while sitting on the couch. The Wii U also offers a competitive response to Apple’s iPad.

The Wii U has a 6.2-inch touchscreen display and a forward-facing camera, and will be used for more than a remote to the videogame console. For instance, users can browse the Internet, draw sketches on the screen with a stylus, play standalone games like Othello, view photos and participate in video chat.

It can also be used with the Wii Fit’s balance board to weigh yourself without ever having to turn on the TV.

Nintendo said the controller is not designed to leave the home and therefore, we surmise, they don’t intend for it to compete against its own portable 3DS gaming device.

Nintendo demonstrates how the Wii U is used for Web browsing:

3. Nintendo won’t stop here. You can bet there will also be a digital strategy:

To be sure, today’s sneak peek was only a glimpse into the future.

Nintendo touched on the hardware capabilities of the Wii U and how it will interact with the Internet, but from what we are hearing separately, there will be a strong digital component.

Riccitiello alluded to it on stage. “We are changing games from a thing that you buy to a place that you go,” he said. “Nintendo’s next platform has deeper online capabilities. This is an unprecedented partnership between EA and Nintendo.”

For perspective, the Wii U tablet is about the same size as an open 3DS:

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus