The Nintendo Switch Pro (or whatever official name it receives) might be the best worst-kept secret in gaming history. Rumors of the system have been swirling since the Switch’s earlier days. Bloomberg in particular has been sounding the alarm, revealing all sorts of details such as the system allegedly featuring a better screen, more power, and a higher price tag.
Of course, reports can and have been wrong, but the number of reputable sources now corroborating the reports surrounding Switch Pro suggest something really is looming. But as exciting as this is, there are some legitimate concerns that I can’t shake: Who is this console for? What are its true advantages? Where does it fit in in the current lineup of systems?
The legacy of the oddball
Nintendo Switch as we already know it is and always has been an oddball. It released in the middle of the previous generation but weaker than that generation, which made it technically next-gen but also not next-gen. It’s technically a home console and a handheld but also technically not either of them because it can be both. But then there’s Nintendo Switch Lite, which is still a Switch but can’t be a home console, so that technically makes it the real handheld but the Switch platform isn’t really a handheld platform. See what I mean by odd?
I didn’t say all of that to make a really long and elaborate joke — not completely anyway. This is the actual state of affairs when it comes to the Switch. As the one and only hybrid console in the entire industry, both developers and consumers have been paying special attention to it. Consumers love it for its flexibility, and developers love it because there’s a large market to sell to and a navigable technical platform to use. Switch has been overwhelmingly popular worldwide; it’s been topping charts large and small since launch, been featured across pop culture, and has already become one of Nintendo’s most profitable and highest-selling products in record time.
And remember, all of this has been achieved while being less powerful than the competition, as well as less feature-rich. (Nintendo Switch Online says “hey.”) So, again, I ask: Where is a Switch Pro actually supposed to fit in? Who’s it supposed to wow? Does this market actually need a Switch Pro?
Who asked for Switch Pro?
Interestingly enough, all of these questions were more or less being asked by a good chunk of folks before the original Nintendo Switch was formally revealed. When all the gaming world had to go on was rumors, there was a lot of doubt and disdain behind the idea of a hybrid system. It just seemed too weird and unwarranted to be a viable option. Novel idea? Maybe. Practical? No, many thought. But yet, now 80+ million units strong in less than five years, Switch seems to be the core concept for Nintendo to build upon for years to come. However, that’s just the thing — it’s not quite time for us to move into the future.
Switch’s success is both a good and bad thing for the alleged Switch Pro. The existing hardware is doing more than fine for Nintendo, so people don’t need a new excuse to buy a Switch. What’s a Pro supposed to do that makes it so necessary to have then? Well, the most recent Bloomberg report claims Nintendo intends to slowly phase out the existing flagship Switch in favor of the Switch Pro over time. In a way that makes sense, but again, there are still dozens of millions of systems that will be out there. What happens to them?
New Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 4 Pro, and Xbox One X all had to face this same issue, and they all basically ended up going in the same direction: They regenerated interest for their respective platforms, made some existing customers second-time purchasers, and bought their companies some extra time before the next-gen systems were ready. Yet, despite all the upgrades they offered, their features were never fully taken advantage of.
Firstly, New 3DS/2DS aside, the older hardware was never truly replaced. PS4 Pro and Xbox One X could be seen next to their cheaper counterparts on shelves quite often. There were still people who needed the simpler hardware for the sake of affordability, and keeping it around was a simple economic decision. Added to that was the fact that no studio could make a game exclusively for PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X anyway, so no game could ever perform too extraordinarily well on an upgraded console compared to on the original. The same would be true for developers for the Switch vs. Switch Pro.
These are the weird paths that mid-gen upgrades have to walk, and the last generation of consoles is really the only time we’ve seen it play out. No doubt, these refreshed systems did a decent job. PlayStation 4 Pro apparently exceeded initial expectations back in 2017. However, while people were clearly interested, it was never to the point of the market making a mass transition to the better hardware. I don’t foresee things being much different for Switch Pro.
Much ado about nothing?
While there is a vocal group of gamers who regularly make their impatience for a Switch Pro known on places like Twitter and YouTube, they aren’t the ones who make up the majority of any console’s user base. It’s the average Joes out there who only tend to know about these new systems through traditional advertising that companies really have to try to woo.
While Nintendo could leverage the Switch’s overall popularity as a way to coax people into buying a Switch Pro, many of the folks who already have a system may not be bothered to jump up. And as long as the existing flagship Switch remains in production, then the price difference is going to mean a lot to some customers.
As Switch Pro continues to be “leaked” and hyped up, for the sake of being a fan of gaming, I am excited. However, while I don’t think it’ll be a failure by any means, I’m just really unsure as to where it will land in this market. As PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X|S continue to grow, all being significantly more powerful than even a Switch Pro, power can’t be the only thing that the alleged refresh has up its sleeve.
It will make the experience better, but ultimately, the world doesn’t need it — not yet. If anything, my eyes are still very much on the next true generation of Nintendo console. And really, I think people should temper their expectations for that very reason. Whether or not the Pro model is legitimate as has been described, Nintendo has to move on from the Switch as we know it at some point. And that is where a lot of the lessons learned during this current system have a real chance of being implemented.
The next big thing
Those lessons include addressing the hardware flaws of the current design by creating a unit that’s more quality-focused, but still cost-efficient, both in terms of the console’s external features and internal components. Perhaps more work can be put into developing a custom chip that’s truly dedicated to the hybrid nature of the Switch. While not the greatest comparison, Apple’s M1 chip is a clear example of a well-designed chipset that maximizes performance.
Nintendo can also put more work into the next OS, allowing for more features like proper app management, themes, simpler storage transfer options — the list goes on. True, many of these changed can be implemented into a Switch Pro, but in my opinion, it would be better to go with a total overhaul and expansion of the hybrid formula in a new console rather than a stop-gap improvement that ultimately only a few million people will actually get to enjoy.
Because as established earlier, the current Switch, despite its shortcomings, is only going to keep making history. A Switch Pro might offer a nice upgrade, but in my humble opinion, what we have today is already doing a good job at fulfilling Nintendo’s hybrid concept. If it didn’t, then not only would sales not be so high, but they would have (and should have) slowed down by now.
Do some of us want the Pro? Clearly. Would it be nice to have? Sure. But is it necessary right now? Not exactly.