Disclaimer: Nintendo Enthusiast does not endorse hacking, piracy, or any related activities. This is just an observational piece by one of our writers.
Despite Nintendo’s efforts, hackers have been making steady progress on cracking open and making changes to the Switch’s firmware. At this point, these backdoor programmers have done a lot with the system. The thing is, a lot of the functionality that has been added/unlocked via hacking are features that Switch owners have been requesting from Nintendo itself. This got me thinking: what are Nintendo’s software engineers even doing? Also, perhaps they should take some pages from these hackers.
Some of the features that hackers have added to the Switch so far include customizable themes, local save data backups, and emulators. Some hackers even got a seemingly fully-functional Linux distro up and running on the system. To an extent, this isn’t incredibly surprising. Hackers seem to find ways to do almost anything when they get their hands on a piece of tech. Not to mention that since the Switch is using a Nvidia Tegra X1, that’s made their job all the easier since the chip has been very well-documented for a while now. What’s actually surprising about this situation is that Nintendo’s own software engineers are seemingly so far behind the efforts of the hackers.
I’m not referring to the patching of the Switch’s security holes. I’ve personally written many reports here on Nintendo Enthusiast detailing Nintendo’s efforts in this regard. Rather, what I’m talking about here is I wonder why Nintendo’s own software engineers haven’t been able to implement some of the aforementioned features when the hackers have already done so. After all, it’s the engineers which know the system better than anyone else. So, it just seems odd to me that hackers can come in and make so much progress in less than two years when the official firmware still lacks so much seemingly basic functionality.
In an interview, Netflix’s CEO explained that Nintendo was more focused on building the Switch’s gaming-related attributes more-so than other features, like video streaming. That’s understandable—the Switch is a video game console after all. But, the system is established at this point. It’s not quite the fledgling little hybrid that we were all fawning over last spring. It’s certainly not “old” yet, but it’s certainly not “new”. At this point, one would expect some serious progress to have been made. Yet, that hasn’t happened.
Switch Online launched last month which introduced the console’s “full” network service, including save data backups via the cloud. Via a firmware update, Nintendo also added the ability to share digital game libraries between different units, which was something the company for some reason kept secret until the update was released. These changes do show that Nintendo’s software engineers are certainly making some progress behind-the-scenes. But, it does still seem that things are coming together rather slowly.
As a console that’s launched well into the eighth-generation, the Switch does come off as rather basic in terms of functionality. Back in the early days of the previous generation, this sort of thing was to be expected. Consoles were really just becoming multimedia powerhouses. The 360 and PS3 especially were far different by the end of their lives than they were at the beginning due to software updates. When the PS4 and Xbox One rolled in, a lot of that functionality that had been built up over the years was moved over, improved upon and joined by new features. Nintendo, on the other hand, has seemingly taken a lot of steps back.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
For instance, the Wii and 3DS of all systems have Netflix apps. Neither of them is well-suited for such a task, yet it’s available. The 3DS is even the preferred portable music player for Japanese middle-schoolers; again, an unconventional use, but it’s still there regardless. Speaking of the 3DS, it also has a browser, customizable themes, support for external save data backups and even voice chat without the use of a smartphone app. Meanwhile, the Switch has none of these things. Interestingly enough, the findings of hackers indicate that the Switch’s OS allegedly shares a lot in common with that of the 3DS. Again, considering that the Switch currently has fewer features than its sub-predecessor, this just comes off as odd; hence why I asked the question earlier: “What are Nintendo’s software engineers even doing?”
There is a bit of a silver lining in this situation, though. We can expect at least three-and-a-half more decent years out of the Switch before its formally preceded. Thus, there is a time for more functionality to be added. Even though I’m aware of that, I’m still perplexed that hackers have already moved so much faster than Nintendo’s own engineers. One plausible reason as to why this is the case is that Nintendo is concerned about making sure the functionality isn’t just stable, but also secure. Admittedly, this can take some time to get right. But, still, this is a device in 2018 we’re talking about.
At the very least, I do enjoy the snappiness and stability of the Switch’s OS. If Nintendo can add more functionality while also preserving this level of fluidity, the Switch OS just might go down in history as being one of the best for any console in terms of performance and versatility.
What features would you most like to see Nintendo add?