Nintendo finally did it! There’s a new Nintendo Switch coming in October! Over a year of rumors have amounted to the Nintendo Switch OLED model, featuring a slightly larger OLED display, “improved audio,” a built-in ethernet port, and a better kickstand. All of that hype has brought us a device that’s a mere step or two above the product launched back in March 2017. It sort of reminds me of that half-decade where Apple seemed to be stuck with the same generation of Intel CPUs in its laptops. The incremental improvements are nice, but we were all kind of hoping for more (like an end to Joy-Con drift?). Only Nintendo has never needed to give us more.
I’ve spent the last year and a half using a Nintendo Switch Lite and rereading rumors about the “Switch Pro” that seemed to promise a fix for every single issue I and others had with the original product. I thought a lot about how cool it would be to play games on my TV in 4K or marvel at improved frame rates or just pair my Bluetooth headphones without using some kind of dongle. With the 4K HDR-capable PS5 and Xbox Series X tucked into my entertainment center, I’ve gotten used to familiar games being tweaked for the TVs actually made in 2021 and would like to experience Breath of the Wild the same way I’m currently experiencing Final Fantasy VII Remake.
That’s not going to happen. The latest Switch will not incorporate HDR. It won’t do 4K or 120 frames per second, either. Instead, it will cap out at 1080p when attached to a TV, and its 7-inch OLED display will do just 720p. A $200 smartphone has better pixel density than the incoming Switch. I could get a cheap Android phone, a controller, and a subscription to Stadia and have a higher-resolution experience on my TV than I could with the Nintendo Switch OLED model. But I won’t be doing that. I will be patiently waiting for preorders on the OLED Switch instead.
Nintendo is a toy company first, a tech company a distant second
Because as much as many of us wanted something that could compete with Sony and Microsoft and give us Breath of the Wild in 4K, Nintendo doesn’t actually need to cater to us. Its console sales were up 44 percent year over year in the first three months of 2021. It wants new owners — not necessarily to convert old ones. It can put out something with as minor upgrades as the Nintendo Switch OLED model, and we will buy it! Heck, it can have the audacity to actually officially call the thing the Nintendo Switch (OLED model), and we will buy it!
Nintendo makes really good games, and it produces truly innovative hardware. It’s a toy company first, a tech company a distant second. It’s never had to compete with Sony or Microsoft on specs, and historically, when it tried, it lost badly. Why get dragged into an arms race and take massive losses on console sales when it’s already selling the Switch at a profit and will likely be able to sell the OLED Switch at an even higher profit?
While frame rate-counting nerds like myself have groaned about the Switch’s technological limitations versus the much more expensive (and harder-to-find and buy) PS5 and Xbox Series X, the vast majority of people don’t notice the occasional frame rate hiccup or care that a new custom Tegra chip inside a Switch Pro could theoretically use Nvidia’s DLSS technology to improve graphics via machine learning. Losing out on these things won’t matter to them as much as having a better display or drift-free Joy-Con. (Nintendo has neither confirmed nor denied that.)
Doing a mid-cycle processor refresh leads to a lot of confusion
Honestly, losing out on these things doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, either. After the initial disappointment over the lack of 4K and a better CPU, I was excited! This new model really was addressing my biggest complaints and coming in at a price I could stomach. I primarily play the Switch in handheld mode, and my main issue with both it and the Switch Lite has been the extremely ugly 720p LCD. OLEDs typically have better color accuracy and contrast than an LCD. So an OLED, even one with as dinky a resolution as 720p, is going to likely be a major improvement.
And as we saw with the last generation of Sony and Microsoft hardware, doing a mid-cycle processor refresh leads to a lot of confusion and blurs the line between console and PC gaming. The appeal of console gaming is you buy the console and the game, and things just work. You shouldn’t have to worry about patches to introduce all of the features on the box. Sony and Microsoft have tried, and often bungled, to communicate the difference between all of their offerings. Nintendo has only been a little better. Remember the DS and DSi? Nintendo had to make an entire chart to explain all of the differences. Or what about the 3DS and the New 3DS? Some games didn’t even work on the original 3DS!
But there’s no need for charts or careful PR pushes to explain the difference this time. You can get a Switch for $299, a mobile-only Switch Lite for $199, or you can wait for a little while and get the illustratively named Switch (OLED model) for $349. The games should work. The display should be improved. The ethernet should be built in.
Nintendo could have given us a mid-cycle refresh to compete with all of those powerful PC consoles by Sony and Microsoft. But instead, it went the Nintendo route. No confusion, no 4K, and my basic butt waiting to preorder anyway.