In a recent Games Industry.biz article, various analysts made predictions regarding this year's big industry trends and potential news. With Nintendo currently doing very well with both the standard Switch, last year's handheld-only Switch Lite and software in general, opinion is divided among industry onlookers as to Nintendo's plans for 2020 and the long-rumoured Switch 'Pro'.
Sceptics argue that with the current models selling so well, Nintendo has little reason to muddy the waters and introduce a third SKU alongside the standard model and Switch Lite. The company had a very successful Holiday 2019 and making hay while the sun's shining is all well and good, but they'll also want to maintain momentum.
And let's speak plainly: Switch is starting to get long in the tooth
This time next year there'll be not one, but two shiny new consoles from Sony and Microsoft competing for retail space. While Nintendo has kept out of the console specs war for years now and successfully carved its own hybrid niche with Switch that's appealed to a wide spectrum of the gaming public, the plain fact is that holiday shoppers will have two brand new consoles to choose from come December 2020. Next to those, the OG Switch may start to look a little quaint or, worse, old.
And let's speak plainly: Switch is starting to get long in the tooth, at least in fast-moving games industry terms. The console will soon be entering its third year after launching in March 2017, and its main components were developed and finalised a long time before that. Last year's 'silent' revision of the standard model improved battery life and runs cooler (as well as closing a security hole present in the original SOC or 'system on a chip'), but there is plenty of room for significant changes. Our OG Switch is holding up fine, but as a portable system it's taken a few knocks here and there - it wouldn't take much for us to consider a cheeky upgrade.
Although no software announcements have been announced for the end of 2020 just yet - we're still waiting on the first Nintendo Direct of 2020 - we're sure Nintendo will have a strong gaming offering this Holiday season, but there's nothing quite like new sparkling hardware. We're all looking forward to Bayonetta 3, but it would pair even better with a shiny new Switch, no?
Potential Switch 'Pro' features - what are the rumours?
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Nintendo will launch a "Switch Pro" in 2020, my guess is at $399. More specifically, I predict 4K support, bigger cartridge sizes, and of course beefed-up components. I also think the device will launch after the summer holidays to counter the roll-out of the PS5 and next-gen Xbox later in the year - along with a first-party, system-seller game.
It should be noted that he also predicted a 'Pro' model last year in addition to the Lite, so it's hardly a surprise he's doubling down on the same prediction in 2020.
A separate report from Taiwanese website DigiTimes has also claimed that a Switch 'Pro' model is planned for mid-2020 and is going into production in Q1. While the details behind this report are hard to substantiate and come from "sources from the related supply chain", analysis of Nvidia's Tegra chip revenues and Nintendo's Switch inventory by 'anonymous fund manager' PiranhaCapital does suggest that both companies are gearing up for something hardware-related later this year.
The features mentioned will prove exciting to gaming fans who would like to see Switch competing more directly with the competition, if only to enable more third-party support on Nintendo's system, but it's always wise to have a fistful of salt ready when it comes to Nintendo spec rumours. Every console cycle there are wishful whispers that this time Nintendo is rejoining the specs arm race. Remember when Switch was supposed to have twice the power of PS4? Or was it almost a match for Xbox One?
So, mindful of wishful thinking and misplaced enthusiasm, we thought we'd take a look at these predictions and ask you lovely people what you'd actually want from this ephemeral Switch 'Pro'. First we'll look at them one-by-one (plus a couple of extras we've added to the wishlist) and at the bottom you'll find some poll questions where you can vote for the things that you'd be excited for a new Switch SKU.
We begin with a feature we believe would be the hardest for Nintendo to pull off...
4K output (docked) or increased resolution
Of course, it would be great, although we're sceptical about how realistic Ultra HD is for Switch right now. The affordability and adoption rate of UHD televisions has meant that it's getting tough to find a new TV set that isn't 4K, but rendering another three HD screens' worth of pixels is one hell of a tech leap, which for a portable console sounds unfeasible - or more accurately unaffordable - right now.
we'd argue that the best we can hope for in terms of resolution increases is probably a modest boost that pushes games with dynamic resolutions much closer to the current 1080p maximum
More likely is a minor increase in resolution. The standard Switch outputs up to 1080p while docked, although a great many games fall well short of that resolution and the console's handheld screen is only 720p. We think the current Switch's screen holds up just fine thanks to its diminutive proportions, although a bump to 1080p wouldn't go amiss, especially if the screen itself grew in size (see below).
In isolation Switch still looks fine docked on 55-inch and larger TVs, but there's perhaps room for improvement via some of the upscaling tricks used by other current gen consoles to fudge their way to 4K. It seems unlikely given the company's stance historically, but if it was determined to somehow get '4K' on the packaging of a new Switch (the upcoming Sony and Microsoft systems promise native UHD out of the box), one potential solution might be to offload 4K signal output to a beefed up dock that could theoretically handle 4K upscaling while keeping the main console cool and trim.
That would likely introduce latency issues that would need to be overcome. We're still sceptical, but it's a potential workaround.
A more powerful CPU
The revised standard Switch and Switch Lite both use the updated 'Mariko' version of Nvidia's Tegra X1 which draws less power and therefore runs cooler while offering better battery life. General performance isn't improved over the launch version in any noticeable way, although the chip is technically capable of more.
Whether a Switch 'Pro' would tap into this unused potential for minor (repeat, minor) improvements or Nintendo would replace it with a more powerful substitute is unclear, although the former option perhaps makes the most financial sense at this time. Staying in the realm of reality, we'd argue that the best we can hope for in terms of resolution increases is probably a modest boost that pushes games with dynamic resolutions much closer to the current 1080p maximum.
As we mentioned above, if 4K inexplicably became a do-or-die goal for Nintendo, it would arguably make more sense to add 4K upscaling tech to the dock and improve the console itself through minor tweaks and upgraded materials for that 'premium' feel.
Speaking of which...
A magnesium alloy body
Sounds sexy, no? Replacing the current model's plastic chassis with metal would improve the handheld's structural integrity (preventing any cracking as experienced by some owners) and give the console a refined 'premium' feel. At once more durable and sophisticated, a magnesium alloy casing suggests that this gaming tool is for the serious, professional gamer. Sure, the standard model is fine, but nothing's more hardcore than metal. Except perhaps chromed metal.
Alternatively, throw in a couple of colour variants and who could resist? Spice Orange, anyone? That's hardcore, right?
A reduced bezel around the screen
Another obvious way to give a new SKU a premium feel would be to reduce the black bezel around the screen, resulting in more visual real estate while keeping the same basic dimensions of the current model. A 1080p screen would complement this increase nicely, although we'd probably still take the size increase with another 720p screen.
Even the smallest mobile devices boast screens with resolutions in excess of Switch and Switch Lite's lowly 720p, and it's possible that switching to one with more pixels wouldn't cost too much more from a production standpoint (indeed, it could theoretically be cheaper depending on supply and demand and available materials), although it would naturally have to work in concert with a CPU boost.
Of course, a bigger screen will impact battery life, but we'd take that hit if only to help reading all the unoptimised tiny text cropping up in Switch ports.
Wireless audio out of the box
The fact that Switch has a standard 3.5mm audio jack should be commended as a thoroughly sensible, practical inclusion. However, the reality is that wireless headphones are commonplace these days and as a portable device in 2020, Switch's lack of support stands out as a massive oversight. Several companies offer third-party solutions via USB-C dongles which work admirably, but any updated Switch should pack in this tech and remove the need to carry yet another gadget around in addition to our phone, charger, AirPod case, Switch, charger, Kindle, charger, etc, etc.
Also audio-related, a built-in microphone and Dolby Digital support wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
Another feature rumoured for the original Switch which didn't materialise, the ability to play your portable online when you're out and about without being tethered to Wi-Fi would be nice. As 5G gradually rolls out it makes more sense for Switch to incorporate the tech, especially in Nintendo's homeland. With services like Google's Stadia and Microsoft's xCloud banking on improved networks in the coming years, and with Nintendo looking to expand its online offering with Nintendo Switch Online, the ability to truly play anywhere would be a significant bullet point on a list of upgraded Switch features.
Alternatively, a non-portable, 'desktop' Switch
We've already had the portable Switch-that-doesn't switch, so why not a home-bound version? A dock-sized 'desktop' Switch might seem improbable, but by eschewing the inherent problems of squeezing all that miniaturised tech into the current console's form factor Nintendo could use cheaper components to achieve the 4K output and improved speeds some of us want without charging $600+.
It's arguable that further diluting the gimmick of the Switch after the non-switching Switch Lite would be counter-productive, and we don't want to even start thinking how Nintendo would approach game sharing between a standard hybrid console, a portable and a SKU that stays under your telly, but stranger things have happened.
A Switch that doesn't? It's been done once, so why not again?
Switch 'Pro' - So what would you want?
So, of all those possible features, which ones would make you interested in upgrading from your current Switch? Does a more iterative approach to hardware along the lines of the mobile phone business model appeal to you, or do you prefer the traditional 5(ish)-year cycle we're used to with video games hardware? Let us know your thoughts by answering the questions below and let's see what you lovely people are really interested in:
Thanks for voting in the polls. Got any more ideas? We've kept things relatively simple and haven't discussed the potential 'Elite' Joy-Con, accessories or unique software that a 'New' Nintendo Switch might bring. Let us know what you'd like to see in the future with a comment below.