A few weeks ago, rumors popped that Nintendo was working on a new console, purportedly to feature capabilities like 4K gaming and next-generation software. Now, Nintendo has confirmed that it’s working on a next-generation platform, though few other details were announced.
According to an update shared on September 16, Nintendo is working on an “integrated hardware-software next gaming system.” It elaborated with the following statement: “In the future, Nintendo still plans to expand its business around the creation of unique integrated hardware-software products.” The expected launch date, in pitch-perfect Nintendo fashion, is given as 20XX.
“We allocate internal resources very carefully so that technologies we adopt can turn into a source of fun,” Nintendo also said. “We strive to create products that consumers didn’t realize they wanted until the moment they’re announced. To do this we can’t simply follow what other companies are doing or chase the latest technology trends.”
Pretty slim pickings, given that nobody I’m aware of thought Nintendo was going to quit consoles. Does this confirm the 4K Switch? Maybe. But I’m still not convinced.
Next year is the two-decade anniversary for the last “normal” console Nintendo ever built. Ever since the GameCube’s failure, every single Nintendo system has been built around a concept or idea beyond increased horsepower. The DS had a second screen, the Wii added motion control, the 3DS offered glasses-free 3-D, the Wii U had its tablet game controller and experimented with concepts like asynchronous multiplayer, and the 3DS is the first console to merge on-the-go and living room play so completely. Some of these bets have worked better than others, but the company saves its performance-boosting hardware refreshes for “New”-branded variants or the “XL” line of larger-screened devices.
That, by the way, is an idea I hadn’t considered when we talked about this in August. Could the new Switch actually be a “Switch XL” and represent a physically larger device? It definitely could, and I can think of some reasons why Nintendo might go this route. A Switch with a 10- or 11-inch screen would still be able to maintain reasonable battery life thanks to its additional internal capacity. There’d be a reason to raise the resolution of the display and less concern about thermals.
With that said, Bloomberg’s rumors and Nintendo’s own statements both seem to imply that this new console is more than just a minor Switch refresh. Nintendo has talked about VR and AR technology from time to time in the past, but never in a way that suggested it was particularly excited by the idea. Nothing in the text Nintendo provided actually implies the company is working on a 4K console. If anything, it implies the opposite, with repeated references to how Nintendo can’t spend its time chasing the same rabbits Sony and Microsoft prefer. What have Sony and Microsoft been pumping this cycle? Backward compatibility, 4K gaming, and 8K “support.”
Nintendo, it seems to me, is telling us it doesn’t plan to compete on those merits. I don’t think there’d be anything wrong with building a better Switch and calling it Switch 2.0, but Nintendo seems to be implying it has different goals in mind, or even that this could be a product that exists alongside or in addition to the Switch. It’s also very early for Nintendo to be talking about a Switch replacement. The Switch will only be four years old in 2021. Every previous Nintendo console has lived for considerably longer, including the largely-unmourned Wii U.
It still seems to me that Nintendo may not be talking about the product some analysts think it is. I can imagine an upgraded Switch, especially if Nintendo wants to do a “Switch XL” or “New Switch” model. I can also imagine that the company is building a brand-new device either intended to replace the Switch or exist in the market alongside it. What seems least likely is a straight upgrade of the current model with 4K support but no additional gameplay hooks or features. It’s a bad idea to declare anything impossible in 2020, but Nintendo would be breaking with its own history these past 20 years if it launches anything so straightforward or so soon.