According to the Wall Street Journal, Nintendo plans a Nintendo Switch revision in the second half of 2019.
For all the horrified and hilarious reactions, one has to ask the question… is anyone genuinely surprised by this? The Nintendo DS was revised less than two years into its lifespan to look sleeker. It’s funny to remind people how the original Nintendo DS looked, so let’s quickly look back with fondness and humour at how outrageous this thing was design-wise compared to what it became.
Hardware revisions are nothing new; for the purposes of this blog post I am going to initially remove from the table things like the XBox One X, the PS4 “Pro” and the New Nintendo 3DS/2DS. Yes, they are fundamentally hardware revisions. They are, however, also technical hardware upgrades of a significant degree and this isn’t the normal way of hardware revisions; this is a comparatively new form of revised hardware and I still have my doubts about its long-term viability, especially when you consider how small the userbases are for each of these models versus the millions of weaker “base” units on the market. I am not convinced this is a good solution to generational hardware deficits.
And considering that the “New” Nintendo 3DS was a marketing and PR headache for Nintendo, I’m not sure a revised Switch with more hardware power is going to fare much better. I’d like to think Nintendo is a little smarter than that. I know, wishful thinking…
So what –is– the norm? Well, for decades the process of hardware manufacturing and constant chipset development and refinement means that the component parts of consoles in time tend to get smaller, more efficient in terms of things like power consumption, data transfer speeds and heat distribution, and cheaper. Eventually you reach a point where the consoles themselves can be re-engineered into a smaller form; less materials used, less plastic, less packaging and lower shipping costs (both in terms of weight and in terms of volume that can be distributed) all combine to make smaller-form revisions of consoles better in terms of cost. What companies tend to save during this process eventually gets passed down as price cuts to the end consumer; it’s why slimline consoles tend to coincide with heavy price cuts. Yes, this is a simplification. It works. I don’t have all day… well, I guess I do but… nngh, moving on…
I say “decades” because this isn’t a new practice; Atari made use of this back in its hardware heyday, and Sega shipped a Master System 1 and 2, and a Mega Drive 1 and 2 (which it them undermined in terms of cost-cutting by developing at great expense a Sega Mega CD 1 and 2). There was even a slimline PS One.
This tends to happen two to three years into a consoles lifecycle. Nintendo isn’t averse to this; there are myriad Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, DS and 3DS/2DS variants out there. Nintendo has been doing this for a long time; partially because it has been easier to manage for its handhelds (home console wise, the Switch is one of the few occasions where Nintendo has used more industry-standard parts rather than proprietary components and chips). In Late 2019, or perhaps even if rumoured September 2019, the Switch will be two and a half years old; a perfect time to revise the internal components of the Nintendo Switch to a more cost-effective model.
It may also help this will likely coincide with an all-new Pokémon generation game. If this is as I suspect, and it is mostly a cost-cutting revision, Nintendo could slash the cost of the Switch down quite hard; perhaps even to under $200, which with a big globally-successful franchise like Pokémon that is known to sell ten million in its opening month, would start making it look like an impulse buy. Or even something everyone in the house can have, rather than just one unit per household.
There’s also the quirk that Nintendo still needs to fix the hardware vulnerability in the Switch. I’m not entirely sure if they have a revised model out there on this front; I have heard rumour and speculation, but if they haven’t fixed that vulnerability that makes it easy to manually hack the Switch (it’s a quirk on the processor, so it’s more for hands-on hackers. Your Switch isn’t going to be remotely hacked because of this vulnerability), then this would be as good a time as any to close the lid on that particular issue. I’d be surprised if this revision isn’t entirely based around that vulnerability, in fact. I suspect Nintendo stumbled on this revision out of the necessity to fix the issue.
Though with what they have planned for late 2019 in terms of software, I’m sure this is a business angle Nintendo is acutely aware could be beneficial for them.
That’s the reasonable take, of course. And yes, there could be further additions and revisions to the base unit or to a new dock that make it more appealing to current owners seeking an upgrade; I would actually be tempted to buy a revised Switch of this nature if they fix the USB-C Port (which is quirky by industry standards, meaning units have been fried by external power banks) and add other reasonable industry-standard features like… oh I don’t know… A FREAKING ETHERNET PORT NOW YOU’RE CHARGING FOR YOUR ONLINE SERVICE?
Ahem. I apologise.
So let’s slide the New 3DS/PS4 “Pro”/XBOX back in here.
Could the revised Switch be significantly more powerful? I… guess it could? But I fail to see what value such a hardware revision would have for Nintendo. The idea of a revision of this nature is to cut the costs of units, and the 3DS already had one of those revisions before the New 3DS hit. Cutting the cost of the Switch should be in Nintendo’s best interests right now; with a new generation of 4K Consoles that could hit as early as Holiday 2019 (though I suspect 2020 is more likely but I’m open to being wrong here!), getting the Switch as cheap as humanly possible before these machines hit is the ideal goal.
People will buy these new consoles – the XBox Scarlett and the PlayStation 5 (we all know what it’ll be called, don’t front me on this!) – and those that do either have or will buy a 4K Television for them. But I suspect the wider market will still resist the leap, at least for a few years. And that’s where the Switch will come into play; it’s a hybrid console that can play games on your HD Television. You don’t -need- to upgrade, you can get a Switch, and now third-parties are jumping aboard the Switch with more serious intent there’s likely a good chance the Switch could see an abundance of games released in comparison to full-fledged 4K video games. This is the strategy that worked with devastating effectiveness with the Nintendo Wii. And chances are good that Nintendo could cause another generational upset simply by catering to the majority market, over chasing the new but niche audience.
I also suspect the industry kind of knows this. Which is why there is growing support for the Switch within the industry. The Switch offers a little security in troubling times. I don’t think Nintendo can get away with rocking this ship.
But it’s certainly plausible. Personally, I happen to think Nintendo is well underway with the actual successor to the Nintendo Switch, and is probably looking for a 2021/2022 release date. Yes, that’s a short cycle but this is a new hardware concept and the hardware it is using has a much shorter generational half-life than traditional hardware. The Switch lifecycle will be shorter as a result; five years seems reasonable, with the Switch Successor coinciding with market jumps in mobile technology, battery hardware and perhaps even the SDX Format (though I’d argue that’s probably for the Switch Successor’s successor).
Right now, I’m happy to believe Nintendo is just following the industry standard line. Find ways to cut costs and improve efficiency, pass those savings onto consumers and get a massive spike of sales in a period where it will need them most (and be most likely to get them).
I don’t think it’s much more complicated than that, but then… so many people to clickbait out there…