Though all we got out of Nintendo regarding karaoke during their preshow was the distinctly western-centric Sing, it's not at all hard to believe that a more Japanese-oriented implementation of karaoke could be just the ticket to trojan horse the Wii U into homes across Japan. One needs do little more than enter a karaoke box in any number of the massive buildings peppering Japanese city streets to see the resemblance between commercial karaoke gear and what the Wii U will—very shortly—be ushering into homes.
The real novelty of paying for time in a decked-out karaoke booth isn't just to have a private area to let loose with your friends—it's the interface. In virtually every karaoke establishment across Japan, all the songs that you choose to sing are queued up using a small, handheld touch-screen unit with a stylus, from which you can select new releases, browse by artist or song, and even see what other people have been singing most lately, allowing you to gauge what exactly is popular (and what you should be listening to stay culturally in-the-know). The unit rests in a little charger and is passed gingerly around so people can root through the song selection and add things to the list while other people are belting out the things they've already selected. Sound familiar to a certain piece of Nintendo equipment?
...I come back to Nintendo's strength, which is that we look at how we can bring... ideas together in a way that actually makes [the gamepad] a tool that's very easy to use, and that brings meaning to the experience. That's where we'll draw on the experience we have from the past to make that a reality.
...it's probably an example better suited to a Japanese audience, but obviously in Japan we're very fond of karaoke. You always have somebody who's singing off of the television, but then you also always have the next person who's waiting to sing. When you have a small screen like this, it then becomes much easier for somebody to sit down and be choosing their song and select it and send it to the system while the previous person is finishing up their song.
In a recent interview with 1UP, Miyamoto prodded us toward the answer, as he tends to do. In contrast to the relatively kludgy-looking home karaoke units that are standard today in Japan (and make serious money through subscription-based song rental models), the Wii U Game Pad, with its large, central touch-screen, is virtually identical to those ubiquitous touch-screen units that rest in every karaoke bar in the nation. And as a multi-function device that already interacts with the TV using the remote functions, the use of the Game Pad as a handy slab to be passed around the living room as an entertainment hub is something that isn't hard to imagine.
Nintendo themselves are no strangers to the music gaming space, having previously partnered with JASRAC, Japan's music copyright association, for their DS music game Daigasso Band Brothers DX, which was a particular favorite of N-Sider staffers. A popular seller for Wii in Japan is Karaoke Joysound Wii, a package that includes a disc and microphone, and has a licensing agreement with karaoke service provider Xing to license one of the largest libraries of karaoke songs in the country.
A karaoke application for the Wii U could change the concept and experience of singing at home. Interconnectivity with Miiverse and Nintendo Network could present features on the screen like the most popular songs among Wii U users, or the ability to see what songs your friends enjoy. With the Game Pad functioning even while other people sing the words up on the TV, the karaoke establishment experience could be replicated and even innovated on in ways that current home systems don't allow. How about seeing your own personal Mii belting out the hits with you, and the Miis of your friends in the TV's virtual "karaoke box?"
Nintendo constantly looks for new ways to bring other forms of entertainment outside games to their platforms. On Wii, you could even do Internet shopping, watch streaming video, and get restaurant recommendations in Japan. A first-party karaoke app could work to make sure that even if more casual Wii U users stop buying or playing games, the system will remain a central part of the living room. More than any other device, the power that Nintendo leverages by incorporating the Game Pad itself into the routine has long-term implications for the continued relevance of the device. Getting users, and Japanese users in particular, used to using their Wii U at home for some karaoke could be just what Nintendo needs to bring the device to the mouths and words of the citizens—and take those words right back from them.