I’m not quite sure why all of the console makers have had a hard time keeping their new hardware under wraps this past generation, but the reveal of Nintendo Switch OLED just recently was one that was both expected and unexpected. While the Nintendo rumor mill has been inundated with reports of a fully upgraded Switch Pro for quite some time now, the Switch OLED actually only amounts to a small revision of the hybrid. Some folks are pretty disappointed, others even upset. However, even as someone who is not going to buy a Nintendo Switch OLED, I believe Nintendo’s actually made a pretty smart strategic business decision.
The Switch platform has done remarkably well for the past few years, topping sales charts worldwide month after month for a good while now. It’s become so popular that it has spawned many pop culture references and become a poster child for gaming everywhere. As such, the Switch OLED ostensibly doesn’t need to exist; the Switch and Switch Lite are clearly doing just fine to preserve the brand. However, the OLED model fits into Nintendo’s broader plans that it’s openly discussed for a long time: providing longevity and choice.
Variety for the masses
In 2020 and again in 2021, Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa emphasized that Nintendo Switch is only in the “middle of its life cycle,” and Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser has also said the company is redefining what console life cycles look like. That implies we should expect the Switch to continue as Nintendo’s front runner as far off as 2024 or thereabouts, which would make it Nintendo’s longest-running home console ever. However, such a length of time isn’t abnormal for past Nintendo handheld systems. And Nintendo handhelds historically received lots and lots of revisions.
As far back as the original Game Boy, Nintendo has a history of releasing incremental revisions to its handhelds. The same happened with Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, and most recently Nintendo 3DS. Though the Switch is not a full-on handheld, its hybrid nature has given Nintendo similar flexibility with its approach to keeping the platform flourishing throughout its lifecycle.
Keeping things fresh with Nintendo Switch OLED Model
Hardware revisions and variations don’t just improve upon flaws, but they also fulfill the simple task of keeping a brand relevant. Other tech companies use this exact same formula — take smartphones for instance. In recent years, it’s become standard for smartphone makers to release a variety of versions of the same phone.
For example, Apple’s iPhone 12 comes in four different variants, each at different price points. This is all in the name of choice: A potential buyer can examine which model fits them the best, and the different price points will give them a nudge to bite the bullet. On a budget? Then there’s the iPhone 12 mini. Want to go ultra premium? Then there’s the 12 Pro Max. What if your taste lies somewhere in the middle? Then there’s the all-round good ol’ iPhone 12 and 12 Pro.
It’s the exact same strategy with Nintendo Switch, Switch Lite, and the OLED Model.
When the Switch Lite was revealed in 2019, Nintendo gave its customers a choice as to how they wanted to experience the Switch. If a true portable was all they needed, then now there was a system for that. Of course, Nintendo could have also just chosen to sell a regular Switch without a dock included instead, but it didn’t because, again — brand refreshment.
Though I blasted the decision to create the Switch Lite back when it was initially announced, it’s only been as of the recent reveal of the Switch OLED that I finally get what Nintendo is up to. The Switch Lite didn’t need to be made, but it served as a fun way to attract new customers. By that same token, the introduction of the Switch OLED now gives customers who want a more premium take on the full hybrid experience an option to splurge. As for the original Switch, it now sits nice and pretty in the center as the all-rounder. Though it keeps the same $300 MSRP that it launched with, now Nintendo has a bit of leverage in the psychology department.
The Switch Lite’s $200 asking price definitely spoke to budget-conscious consumers, but now the $300 price of the flagship Switch put next to the $350 Switch OLED can also play with people’s minds. Let’s say there’s been an average Joe out there who’s seen the Switch for the last few years but hasn’t bitten the bullet. He’s a little budget-conscious but still wants the full hybrid experience. So, the regular Switch is still there and now might feel less expensive than it would have last year, since it’s not $350 like the Switch OLED.
Success across the board
Regardless of which model of the system someone picks up, Nintendo still wins. A purchase of a Lite, regular, or OLED model all counts as one more addition to the already massive Nintendo Switch user base. As it trots ever closer to the coveted 100 million mark, hardware revisions like the Switch OLED keep the Switch a consistent topic in the media and give someone just one more reason to finally go out and get one.
Sure, having a model with a spec bump would be nice, but keep in mind that such a release didn’t really become a thing until this past console generation. And even then, those mid-gen upgraded consoles didn’t set the market on fire. Nintendo has been doing just fine selling the Switch over the past four-and-a-half years, and releasing a new model will only keep the momentum rolling.
Plus, it’s pretty calculated for the company to be releasing the new Switch OLED model exactly a year after the next-gen systems. While demand for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series remains high, by the time the Switch OLED releases, they’ll no longer be “brand new.” The new Switch can exploit that slight dip in hype to swoop in and enjoy some time in the limelight when it hits the shelves, bolstered further by the success that the Switch brand has already enjoyed to date.
Will Nintendo Switch OLED set the world on fire though? I don’t necessarily think so. But it doesn’t have to. Even if for some odd reason the Switch platform shuddered entirely tomorrow, it still would go down in history as one of the bestselling systems of all time. Thus, the Switch OLED is simply one more way for Nintendo to keep this success train rolling until its true next big project is ready.