It’s been nearly a month since Nintendo pulled the curtain off of the (not-so-secret) Nintendo Switch Lite. I’m still having a hard time believing it’s a real thing, and still don’t really accept the fact that it exists, but that’s beside the point. The real point is that Nintendo is actually about to release a dedicated handheld in the year of 2019.
The last time a dedicated handheld system launched was late 2011, being the PlayStation Vita in Japan. That means the gaming world hasn’t seen a brand new full-on portable game system in nearly a decade. And honestly, I don’t think many of us were expecting to see another. At least for me, I was expecting the day that Nintendo announces the 3DS/2DS family to be formally discontinued (which is bound to happen soon) to be the day that the lineage of pure handhelds ends forever.
With the Switch as we’ve known it, I thought Nintendo was forging a new path, the rise of the hybrid. After all, the console has been so successful playing both sides. So, that once again begs the question: Why did Nintendo go through the trouble of creating the Switch Lite in the first place? There actually is an official answer.
According to Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser, Nintendo observed the playing trends of Switch users and noticed that most users preferred to play in handheld/tabletop mode. From that data, it seems Nintendo hatched the idea that offering a cheaper, more basic version dedicated to handheld play would attract even more people to the platform.
True, a cheaper version of the system is bound to generate more sales. That’s why there are devices like the Google Pixel 3a, Samsung Galaxy S10e, and iPhone 10R — more basic versions of flagship products for people on a budget. But the thing about the Switch Lite is that the original Switch is still a portable device, hence why I find the existence of the Lite to be virtually meaningless. Nevertheless, it’s happening anyway, so what should we expect to happen from now on?
It’s hard to say. While the Switch has proven to hold its own against the other systems, it’s hard to see where this will go in the near future. There have been some big games ported to the system so far, some of which were seemingly impossible. Yet, developers have found a way to scale their games down to run on the mobile hardware the Switch uses. That’s excellent, and since the Switch Lite is also compatible with almost every piece of software, that goes to show that even if the Switch had been originally released as a portable, it still would’ve been the first-ever handheld to stand equal with its home console counterparts. However, times will soon change.
A challenger approaches
As the next generation of consoles looms ever closer, the future of Switch hangs in the balance. Developers will now have to optimize for a handheld-only Switch, in addition to the docking variant. Compared to just the PS4 and Xbox One S of today, that’s a challenge, so imagine the difference when the Xbox Scarlett and PS5 come to town. Despite this, people are clearly interested in a portable system, so developers will stick around as long as the audience is there.
What I wonder about the interest in a portable system is how much of it is genuine. Going back to Nintendo’s reasoning, I wonder if one key fact was taken into consideration: How much of that portable playtime was dedicated? How many users actually play the Switch purely as a portable system versus those who play it portably out of convenience? For gamers with busy lives, playing for an hour or two on the TV might happen every so often. However, when they have free spots throughout the day, they play the Switch in portable mode. Since they’re able to dedicate more time in those short bursts, naturally that playtime would accumulate over a long period. Keeping this in mind, I wonder if the data could possibly be skewed due to this caveat.
If anything, the Switch Lite’s sales will prove just how badly people want a totally handheld system in this day and age. Again, its attractive price tag and massive library will surely help it sell well, so there is a good chance sales will be strong. Still, I wonder how this will affect Nintendo’s hardware development moving forward.
Cornering the market
I really don’t want to see the hybrid design abandoned. I don’t think it will be abandoned either; otherwise, Nintendo would have been trying to make the Switch Lite the new face of the Switch family, like how the New 2DS XL somehow ended up becoming the flagship member of the 3DS family. If anything, the existence of the Switch Lite may just encourage Nintendo and Nvidia’s hardware engineers to go the extra mile with designing a mobile chipset that can handle high-quality games even without a dock.
Late last year, I wrote an article talking about how the 2018 iPad Pro marked a huge advancement for mobile technology that could help the future of devices like the Switch. If Nintendo does plan on continuing its semi-dual system plan for the next generation of Switch, then again, that next-gen mobile chipset should hopefully be a beast, similar to that of the iPad Pro. After all, it doesn’t even have to connect to external power to perform like an Xbox One S.
After September, it will be very interesting to observe the future of the Switch lineage. Even though the Switch Lite is effectively the successor to the 3DS, it’s still unique since it complements a hybrid console. One thing is for sure: With Sony and Microsoft continuously trying to dominate the living room, Nintendo clearly has its sights set elsewhere — anywhere else but the TV. As the sole provider of portable gaming, Nintendo has now fundamentally carved out its own little corner of the market. Maybe that’s why the Switch Lite really exists — because the only one who can do it right now is Nintendo.