Many new Android devices are heading to market this year with a focus on gaming, and the Wikipad appears to be aiming at the high end. The device features a 10.1 IPS display with 1,280 x 800 resolution, an Nvidia Tegra 3 T30 quad-core 1.4GHz processor, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, at least 16GB storage and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. The tablet also has 8-megapixel rear / 2-megapixel front cameras and will be good for at least six hours of continuous gaming on the battery. Most important for gamers, though, is the addition of a wrap-around controller that includes analog joysticks, triggers, buttons and speakers. The controller can detach when you want to use the tablet in its slim, 1.2 pound form.
GamesIndustry International spoke with CEO James Bower after he showed the Wikipad at Gamescom, in order to find out more about their plans for this new mobile gaming device.
Q: You've announced that the Wikipad now has Sony Certification for PlayStation Mobile, which will bring PlayStation games to your device. How important is this for you?
James Bower: We've been in discussions with Sony for some time about this and it's great to finally be able to talk about it. We're really excited and thrilled to be partners with Sony.
Q: That brings a lot of attention and should help you get it to a wider audience, shouldn't it?
James Bower: Absolutely. A lot of people were talking about how it's going to be Android based, and kind of an indy sort of platform, but now with the Sony announcement it's built a lot of excitement. Sony is obviously an international brand that's really going to bring a lot of attention to the capabilities of our device and the uniqueness of it. The tablet itself and the concept with the gaming controller really bridges a gap with the traditional handheld gaming devices that have been on the market for some time. A lot of people are talking about the upcoming Wii U, but the differentiator that we have is the fact that you can do everything you normally do on a tablet, like web and media and applications. With the concept of our tablet controller coming into the picture it really is a crossover device that's filling a big void in the market. People can now look at buying a single device where they can game as well as do all their traditional tablet functions.
"People can now look at buying a single device where they can game as well as do all their traditional tablet functions"
Q: Initially when you showed the Wikipad it was a 7-inch tablet with both 2D and 3D capability, and now you've ended up with a 10-inch tablet with no 3D. What was the reason for the shift?
James Bower: There are a couple of reasons. Originally at CES the tablet actually was 8 inches, I think there's been some press out there whether it was 7 or 8, it was actually 8. When we originally developed the concept leading up to CES, we had a platform that we were working with in concept that was good, and it was stereoscopic 3D enabled, and it was using a different processor. After CES there was a lot of chatter about the possibility of this device, and we started discussions with Nvidia. We also were in discussions with content providers as well. We came down wanting to move to an Nvidia Tegra platform that was a lot faster than what we originally had set out.
We said to Nvidia, "Help us find a way to make one of the best tablets on the market, not just a gaming device", and we set off on that mission. We're able to actually accomplish that; the tablet is an extremely light tablet, an extremely efficient tablet from a battery management standpoint, and a very powerful tablet. When we were making these decisions we wanted to come out with a high-end tablet, one of the bigger tablets that was out on the market, which was a 10.1 inch. We wanted to come out with the highest level product first; we thought the market would like to have a nice big screen. On the 3D side, we were cognizant there's not a tremendous amount of 3D content yet, so we're coming to market with the ultralight efficient 2D version, and we're going to wait until there's a bit more content ready before we release a 3D tablet.
Q: Have you finalized your price and release schedule yet?
James Bower: We have. We have a manufacturer's suggested retail price but we're not announcing that yet; we're going to leave that up to the retailers that we're partnered with for that. As far as a release date, we have a general understanding of when that's going to be, but we also made a decision to very quickly prepare to release the tablet based on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean instead of Ice Cream. We're in the process of finalizing beta as we speak and doing the testing. Once that's really ready to go to the market, we'll be announcing our release date. We have a target, it certainly is before the holidays, but we're not at the point yet where we are officially announcing it.
Q:The tablet then can attach or detach from the controller; is there a special connector for that?
James Bower: There is a proprietary 30 pin connector that connects the tablet to the controller itself. Then there's a pass-through inside the controller to where you can still plug in the power cord. There's going to be accessories that plug it into HDMI.
Q:Have you announced the retail outlets where the Wikipad will be available?
James Bower: We're not ready to announce that yet, though I can say that we're in discussions with most major retailers in the Western world; some have finalized their initial purchase orders and others are waiting to see the final product, which we now have and are in the process of doing a road show in the next couple of weeks. It's going to be quite a wide release. Some of them are going to be doing pre-sales as well, in stores as well as on the web.
Q: So we should be looking for an announcement with specifics of the release in the near future?
"We really are focused on this device as an alternative handheld mobile console"
James Bower: Yes, certainly, within the near future for sure. Some of those announcements will come from the retailers themselves. We will start hearing them within the next couple of weeks.
Q:Have you announced any particular content that will be available right away?
James Bower: As far as platforms go, Google Play gives you direct access to all the games that are available there. A lot of games are touch, and there are controller based games as well available on Google. We also are going to come pre-loaded with TegraZone, which are games that are optimized for Nvidia's Tegra platform. There are filters within TegraZone for games that have gamepad support, so people are going to be able to download games from there. There are several games ready for the Wikipad in there.
Of course, with the recent announcement with Sony PlayStation Mobile it's going to come preloaded with PlayStation Mobile Platform, which is more than just an app. The platform works within the processor of the tablet itself, so there are titles that are ready for the Wikipad within the PlayStation Mobile Platform. We'll start seeing some of those initial announcements over the next couple of weeks. The volume will build from there, and a lot of those announcements won't necessarily come from us. They'll either come from the publishers or Sony themselves.
Q: What do you see as your main competition? When people look at the Wikipad, what are they going to be comparing it to?
James Bower: It's very interesting, as I said earlier, it is a bridge device between a tablet and a mobile gaming console. On the one hand, we're compared to the Apple iPad and Asus Transformer and the Samsung Galaxy, which is great being compared to those major established players. Our real target audience for this device is the gamer. We really are focused on this device as an alternative handheld mobile console. In that instance, there's really three: The Nintendo 3DS, the Wii U, and the Sony PlayStation Vita. In that space we are an alternative hardware platform amongst those three primary devices right now. A lot of our marketing, a lot of our focus is is really going to be focused on the handheld console, not so much the tablet players.
Once people get to see the tablet, and they review the tablet, and they feel how light it is, and how capable it is, obviously it's going to be right up there with the best tablets in the market today. We've had a lot of tremendous responses from the initial reviews and people who have seen the tablet itself and a lot of people say, "Is this actually a working tablet? Is there anything inside of it?" because it is very light. I think compared to the other tablets on the market it's going to get great reviews. Really, this is a new, unique device that bridges the gap between handheld mobile console and tablet. I think we're going to see as time goes on a whole lot more content for this type of device. People are really looking for crossover devices, where they don't have to have two or three different devices. They really want one. We're going to deliver a fantastic option to that market.
Q: There are already Bluetooth controllers available that look like traditional handheld controllers that you can use with tablets, but the problem is you have to put the tablet down and you lose the advantage of the tablet's sensors. Do you think the attached controller is a key advantage for the Wikipad?
James Bower: Absolutely. When you're playing a game on your television it's socially acceptable and comfortable to sit on your couch and to hold a controller while you're looking at your big-screen TV. When you're into a device the size of a tablet or a smartphone, it's a very personal device. As an example, when I set my phone down on a table, if anybody goes near that phone I get nervous that somebody's going to pick up my phone. That's my personal device, and these things become almost a part of us, because we conduct commerce through there, we communicate through there, and everything else. The same with the tablets, it's a very personal device. There has been some market penetration for Bluetooth controllers that work with tablets. The experience that we've had playing with our attachable controller that's actually on the device versus a separate controller is a totally different experience. It's in your hands and you're right there in the action, and you feel like you have full control.
Q: Do you see coming out with different models in the future, like different sizes, or different price points?
James Bower: What I can say is that we do have a road map of the evolution of this platform over the next 24 months. So we have a lot of things in the works. I won't talk too much about that right now just for the sake of managing the expectations for our future customers. But we have a lot of exciting things in the works; there's a lot more to come than just this initial platform.
"The experience that we've had playing with our attachable controller that's actually on the device versus a separate controller is a totally different experience"
Q: How do you feel tablets such as yours are going to affect the traditional console market?
James Bower: You know, it's interesting. There's still a very important place in the world for the console. The size of these games as far as data storage and complexity and resolution are still very large pieces of software. Until the handheld type of devices like ours - or PS Vita, or Nintendo 3DS - until they can match what these consoles can do there's always going to be a place in the world for consoles. I've had a lot of discussions behind the scenes with publishers, with Sony, with Microsoft and others, and there's still confidence that we're going to see another generation of consoles coming.
In the future you do have some of the newer technologies like cloud gaming that we've started to hear a lot about. The Gaikai platform, which was acquired recently by Sony, as well as OnLive. It's going to be interesting as bandwidth becomes more sustainable and faster - the experience of gaming over the cloud really is a great one. We've had a chance to demonstrate the future of cloud gaming, and it's very promising. A lot of it's going to hinge on the performance of the mobile carriers and the internet, delivering very high quality sustainable high-seed internet making sure the gameplay isn't interrupted during that experience. That's still going to take a couple of years to get there. In the meantime, from what I hear we're going to see another generation of consoles that are connected to a TV.
We have the ability to play content on the Wikipad and display that on the television as well. Being able to have a second screen where you can do unique things and be able to play games strictly from the Wikipad and stream that to the television, that's something that there's a lot of discussion about from us as well as other tablet manufacturers.
Q: What about the Ouya device, which is bringing Tegra power to the TV set? Not being portable; that seems like a different market than what your device is addressing.
James Bower: It is a different market. Obviously they had some great initial success with their concept on Kickstarter. The concept is that you have an Android-based micro-console or TV box that connects to the television. You can browse the internet or play games on a mobile-type device. It'll be interesting to see how publishers really accept this platform. I think the great part about this is it provides a lower-cost ability for people to get content.
I think the success or failure of these kinds of devices is going to be how well they protect against piracy for content. What they stressed in a lot of their videos and discussion is that it's a very open platform. On the one hand that's great, but to get the high-quality content that everybody wants, and wants to really enjoy, you have to protect the commerce of that content to make sure that revenue is generated and the investments that these AAA blockbuster games are investing to develop, ten, twenty in some cases thirty million dollars to develop these games. If that's not protected and respected and they see that revenue coming back, those future investments won't happen. On one hand the platform's great, and a lot of new indy content for this will come about, but on the other hand we all are hoping, I'm sure Ouya as well, that the mechanisms within the software platform can really start to protect the investments of the publishers and the studios.
Q: Is there anything you can do on a hardware level to help with that?
James Bower: There definitely is. This triangulation of discussion is happening behind the scenes between the platform players like Google and ARM and the processors themselves. There are definitely things that can be done from a hardware perspective and a software perspective, but we're just starting in infancy to see these basic discussions happening. Wikipad is definitely in the middle of some of those discussions and trying to do what we can to protect the publishers and see a lot of this move forward.
Q: That will be interesting to see how it develops. Certainly you want to see developers and publishers compensated for their efforts, but sometimes DRM schemes can get in the way of customers enjoying the games, or they can have other problems.
James Bower: Yes. It has to be a seamless process and a transparent process. It will be interesting to see what happens. You want a very low-cost ability to enjoy these games; we'd like a lot of this stuff that we enjoy to be easily accessible from a cost standpoint. On the other hand, there's so much piracy that goes on, it's tough. Some of the discussions that we've had, some of the big publishers that also have mobile games coming versus the console from a quality standpoint, though it's still a significant investment it's not as high as it could be as if some of these issues were addressed. If they are, obviously these mobile platforms like we hope ours will be, and others that are out there, will offer a much, much larger market potential than a console or a PC.
Q: Many Android games have been monetizing through free-to-play and virtual goods. Do you see that as important on the Wikipad?
James Bower: Yes, you're going to have access to those games that are out there as well, but I think you're going to start seeing higher-quality games coming through with our partnership with Sony PlayStation. It's a unique platform that will help with some of the piracy and with the ability of publishers to generate revenue through the larger platform. Freemium games that are out there are great, and the downloadable games are great, but all of us want to see a higher-quality trajectory for these games. That's one unique thing about us; not only can you get the traditional content that you can on a tablet, but you have the advantage of the expanded game controls you have with our game pad as well as the strategic relationship with Sony PlayStation, which will give our customers a lot more content in the future.
Q: How are you planning on marketing the Wikipad and getting the word out widely to support the retailers?
James Bower: As we near the market you're going to hear a lot of increase in chatter from a PR standpoint, not only from ourselves but our other partners and other games that will be available on the Wikipad. You'll see a lot of amplification from that standpoint. We're excited to have conversations with individuals like yourself to really get the word out there about the Wikipad. Retailers, once they start announcing that they're carrying it, there are some that are putting together big marketing campaigns behind the Wikipad because of the uniqueness of it. A lot of them are saying that they feel it's going to bring a lot of traffic into the store for other items, not just the Wikipad.
We're really working as swiftly as we can with the retailers on these campaigns to get the word out about us. We hope that it's accepted well in the market, which it seems like it's starting to. I've had the great pleasure of being here at Gamescom walking through halls filled with nearly a hundred thousand people and watching these gamers almost stop in their tracks and run into people when they see the Wikipad. I think we're going to have a lot of fun when we launch this over the next couple of months. I anticipate quite a bit of press about this by the end of the year.
Q: It's going to be a very interesting Christmas this year.
James Bower: It is, it is. It's a roller-coaster ride. It already has been behind the scenes; it's been a lot of fun getting a chance to work with the likes of Google and Nvidia and Sony and the publishers and everything. It's been a great journey to date, but I think it's only going to get better as we get out there in public. We're going to have a lot of fun with it.
Q: I'm eager to find out what the price point is for the Wikipad because I feel that will dictate so much of the sales potential for the product.
James Bower: We definitely are going to be a higher-end product coming out, much higher-end than we anticipated. We have used the best-in-breed of every component available in the market, so we've spared no cost or no capability in putting this initial product into the market. It will only get better and we'll come up with interesting new products along the way as well.