Today, The Wall Street Journal ran a report which claims that Nintendo plans to release a revised Switch console towards the end of 2019. As rumours go, it's certainly on the believable side of things; Nintendo's track record in this area speaks for itself, and it has consistently iterated on its portable hardware over the past few decades, right back to the original Game Boy.
Nintendo practically wrote the rulebook on baby-step hardware upgrades and has been hammering out updated hardware with alarming regularity; over the years we've had the Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Advance SP, DSi, 2DS, New Nintendo 3DS and – most recently – New Nintendo 2DS XL, all of which offer minor changes to the base system and are intended to give sales a shot in the arm, as well as subtle improvements (or regressions, in the case of the 2DS line).
But what form could this new and improved Switch take? In the past, Nintendo has iterated slowly with its hardware; 1996's Game Boy Pocket was smaller than the brick-like original, had a better screen and consumed fewer batteries, but was otherwise the same internal hardware that had launched in 1989. The Game Boy Advance SP changed the form factor of the original GBA hardware and added an illuminated screen and rechargeable battery, but took away the 3.5mm headphone socket. More recently, the New Nintendo 3DS line offered improved 3D via head-tracking and a small power boost, although very few games have been released which take advantage of this.
Looking at this handful of examples, it's clear that Nintendo walks a very fine line when it chooses to refresh its existing – and successful – portable hardware. Huge, sweeping changes are off the table as they would not only divide the market but would drastically alter the core message of the platform. So what will this 'new' Switch look like? Will it offer more power? Will it sacrifice core features for portability and cost? We've outlined some of the potential scenarios below.
A Better Screen
The Wall Street Journal's report has stated that the display technology to be used in this upcoming Switch refresh is already a key area of consideration. Nintendo's key aim – according to sources the WSJ has spoken to – is getting a brighter screen which will tax the internal battery less. Most would assume then that this would be an OLED panel, which not only offers plenty of punch and amazing contast but is also kinder on the battery as black pixels are effectively turned off, whereas on an LCD display they are lit and therefore continue to consume power.
However, the WSJ is also reporting that OLED tech is not being considered for the new Switch; it's still rather expensive when compared to LCD, and is also harder to purchase in large quantities (even Apple has to use arch-rival Samsung as a source of OLED screens for its iPhone range). We assume, then, that Nintendo is simply looking to upgrade to a better quality LCD panel which will offer superior brightness and contrast; LCD screens in 2018 have come on leaps and bounds and many people feel they give a more 'authentic' image than OLED, which can often be a little aggressive.
Will Nintendo stick with a 720p panel, though? While the Switch's screen is perfectly adequate for handheld gaming, a resolution boost would be an easy way to set the new console apart from the existing model; it could even have a larger, edge-to-edge screen so the unit itself doesn't need to be any bigger than the existing Switch – a key consideration when you take into account that the console's dimensions are somewhat confined by the fact that it has to allow for the Joy-Con rails on either side.
Any resolution jump is going to have to balanced out by a larger battery, as in portable mode, the console is running at reduced power. Perhaps Nintendo will choose to include a powerful but more efficient chipset in this new model to enable this? Which leads us neatly onto…
More Powerful Specs
As a rule, Nintendo usually avoids boosting the power of its handhelds when producing iterative updates – the one exception is the New Nintendo 3DS range, which introduced a relatively minor increase in power to allow for titles like Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. The reasoning is pretty simple; if you suddenly add more processing grunt which in turn means exclusive new software, then you're splitting the market between those who own the original hardware and those who have the newer model.
However, Nintendo could potentially adopt the approach taken by smartphone and tablet makers, where the specs are enhanced by compatibility is maintained across the majority of software. In this scenario, some games might run better on the newer model than they did on the original. A better analogy is Sony's approach to its 4K-ready PS4 Pro; developers are not allowed to make Pro exclusives, but instead can leverage the additional power to make their games run even better on the newer model.
We have to admit, as tantalising as a more powerful Switch sounds, we can't see this happening next year – perhaps further down the line, but not as soon as 2019.
A Change In Form Factor
Given that Nintendo has spent millions promoting the fact that the Switch is a hybrid console that can be used on your TV and on the road, we can't imagine it would throw all of that hard work away on a system with an entirely different design – but then again, this is the company that released the 2DS, so all bets are off.
A 'Switch Mini' wouldn't be the stupidest idea in the world, if we're honest. The Joy-Con functionality could be removed entirely in favour of traditional 'built-in' controls, turning it into a pure portable console, aimed at filling the void that the 3DS will leave when it finally gets put out to pasture. The machine could have a slightly smaller display to make it more pocket-friendly and could come clad in a robust shell which would make it perfect for younger players.
Despite the drastic shift in design, the core functions of the Switch could still be retained; Joy-Con could be purchased separately to use in tabletop mode, and a special cable could be manufactured which allows the unit to work on your TV in 'docked' mode.
On paper at least, it sounds like a good idea; Switch is too fragile and expensive for many parents to consider as a handheld for their kids, so this smaller, cheaper and sturdier variant would tick a lot of boxes. The only thing that doesn't sit well with us is that such a device would totally change the core message Nintendo has been shouting from the rooftops with Switch; is it still 'Switch' if there's no switching between TV and handheld?
A Bigger Battery
One of the biggest complaints Switch owners have relates to the console's internal battery and its frustrating lack of stamina; this has led to the release of products like the SwitchCharge, which bolts onto the console and offers more juice. We'd imagine that a larger capacity power cell is one of the many things Nintendo has on its list for the new 2019 model, but how much difference it would make is unclear; unless Nintendo wants to make the Switch thicker than it already is, there may not be a massive scope for improvement in this respect.
Battery technology is, of course, improving all of the time, but it remains a sticking point for pretty much all portable consumer devices. Each year, new smartphones from Samsung, Apple and LG hit the market, but none are capable of offering more than a day or so of usage on a single charge. Instead, companies are focusing on 'quick charge' and wireless charging tech to make their devices stand out from the crowd; perhaps Nintendo will do the same with the 2019 Switch?
More Internal Storage
The fact that the Switch comes with just 32GB of internal memory is a bit of a joke, but Nintendo has at least made it easy enough to upgrade the amount of storage you have by using MicroSD cards, rather than an expensive proprietary format like Sony did with the PS Vita.
Even so, it would be nice for the base console to have a little more wiggle room when it comes to this kind of thing, even if it's just 64GB or 128GB. The price of flash memory is dropping all of the time, so we'd imagine that Nintendo will do the right thing and give its 2019 upgrade a little more memory out of the box.
512GB would be the dream, but it's perhaps wishful thinking to expect Nintendo to go quite that high – after all, this is the company that, in Europe at least, doesn't ship a power supply with 3DS and 2DS consoles.
A Better Price
Whenever new hardware is released, it's a given that the existing model takes a drop in price, and given that Switch sales are slowing down, we'd expect the company to look at cutting the RRP of the current model sooner rather than later. However, what effect will an entirely new console have? If it offers improvements over the existing version then you could argue that it will cost more at launch, but a more likely scenario is that the 2019 Switch will arrive at the same price as the current model, which will then take a price cut to clear out old stock.
If Nintendo is working on a 'Switch Mini', then the picture is harder to read; with its reduced functionality, this new console would presumably retail for much less than a full-fat Switch, perhaps a little higher then the current cost of the New 3DS range. That then means that Nintendo can maintain its margins on the 2017 Switch and simply slot the 'Mini' in-between the outgoing 3DS and the Switch Mini.
Maybe the 2019 Switch will simply be a cost-saving revision, like the Wii Mini. In that case, we'd simply see a reduced price point without any real benefit in terms of hardware.
Which of these points would you say is the most important to you personally? Do you want a better screen, more storage, a new design or just a lower price point to encourage more people to join the Switch revolution? Vote in the poll below and let us know your thoughts with a comment.
What do you want to see most on next year's rumoured Switch refresh? (616 votes)
A better screen
More powerful specs
A change in form factor (EG: Switch Mini)
A bigger battery
More internal storage
A cheaper model
None of the above
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