See, what I did there in the title? Switch is the name of Nintendo’s new console. For the last year or so it’s been known as the NX, but now we have a reveal video and a name. We also know what it is, a set-top console you can take on the go.
A lot of rumors have circled for months, it turns out the main rumors are at least partially true. We’ve been hearing that the NX (now known as the Switch) would be a hybrid mobile/set-top console. People have been making some pretty diverse guesses about what the new console would be. For my part I thought we would get a set-top that used a next-gen mobile system as a controller. I guess I was pretty far off the mark, instead the whole thing is mobile.
When you want to play on your television you slide the console into its handy dock and use the “Joy-Con” controllers pretty much like a traditional console controller. Spec wise we know almost nothing about what the Switch, except that it’s got an nVidia Tegra on the inside. Nintendo seems to think it’s powerful enough to be a set-top though, which may be possible with nVidia behind it. The “switch” with the Switch is what happens when you slide the controller apart and attach it to the sides of the main console.
Out of the dock with the two pieces of the controller attached the Switch becomes a mobile console. The screen on the console is supposedly 6.5″ (but that’s not officially official yet) and it uses cartridges similar to the 3DS, but it’s not backward compatible with either the Wii U or the 3DS. Battery life is unknown, screen resolution is unknown (the smart money is on 720p), storage capacity is unknown, we don’t know if it has a touch screen, we don’t know if it has any apps other than games (Netflix, Hulu, web browser). Basically we’ve got a whole lot of things we don’t know yet.
What we do know is that even while mobile you can pull off the two halves of the Joy-Con and use them wirelessly. The two halves can even be used as separate controllers letting two players compete on the go. That will make for some awesome on the go games of Mario Kart. Mario games won’t be the only games you’ll be playing on the Switch, Nintendo seems to have learned from their recent mistakes and have already signed major game developers to the console. EA and Bethesda are just two of the 40 plus partners they announced. They also announced Unreal 4 and Unity engines coming to the Switch which will make it much easier for companies to port their games. More games is definitely encouraging.
Based on what we know so far I expect there to be much debate. Is the Switch innovative? Can the Switch succeed in a world of smartphones and the 3DS? Is the Switch too little too late? Why doesn’t Nintendo just drop hardware and become a software company? Good questions.
Is the Switch Innovative?
In some ways the Switch isn’t new. We’ve seen tablets with removable controllers, we’ve seen tablets and portables that connect to TV’s. But there are a few key differences, the biggest being the power the Switch is supposed to have. Nothing we’ve seen before this has been set-top console level of power. I also haven’t seen anything with as versatile a controller as the Switch. There are some similar looking tablets out there but none of them have such a well thought out and versatile control method. The Switch isn’t the most innovative console I’ve ever seen, but I think it brings something new to the console market and does it with style. (stay tuned for a more in-depth article on innovation in the next few days).
Can the Switch succeed?
The success of the Switch is very much up in the air. Investors don’t have much faith in it at this point, Nintendo stock dropped 7 points after the reveal. The important thing is the public and I see three main challenges for Nintendo. The first is price, if the Switch comes in too expensive it can’t succeed. A $400 Switch could struggle in the market. The second challenge is power, if the Switch is too far behind the XBox One and the PS4 then it loses the appeal of being a set-top console, which is kind of the whole point. The final key is battery life, if you only get a few hours out of it then it really is just a gimmick. All of that doesn’t matter if Switch doesn’t find (and keep) a market. Luckily, Nintendo already has a market in mind and they seem to be connecting with many of them based on online responses I’ve seen to the Switch.
Too Little Too Late?
Nintendo really dropped the ball with the Wii U. In the process they managed to lose the support of third-party developers and lose the faith of console buyers. I really don’t think anyone outside of Nintendo ever got even a little excited about the Wii U. It seemed like a half-baked concept that even Nintendo didn’t know what to do with. They were trying too hard to repeat the success they’d had with the Wii. I think the Switch could put them back in the game. As long as they can keep the quality up and the third-party support strong I think the Switch might come just in the nick of time.
Why Doesn’t Nintendo Drop Hardware All Together?
When I showed my wife the reveal video of the Switch her basic reaction was, “That looks like a tablet to me, why don’t they just partner with someone like Samsung and build a Nintendo tablet. Then they can just worry about software.” There’s a guy at work who wants Sony to buy Nintendo and turn them into a straight up game company. The problem is I think Nintendo really loses a lot of what makes it great if they aren’t supporting their own hardware and creating their own identity. Nintendo has always been strong on differentiation and having custom hardware really does help give the games their character and helps define Nintendo. I think it would be a mistake for Nintendo to drop the hardware all together and be the beginning of a spiral similar to what Sega experienced when they left the hardware side of the business.
I’m excited for the Switch, more excited than I’ve been about a console in a long time. Five months seems like a long time to wait and it sounds like it could be 2017 before we get any more details, but I think it will be worth it.