Ever since Nintendo built the Switch, we’ve been wondering when the company would upgrade the thing. From a technical perspective, the Switch is a bit underpowered. It still uses 20nm manufacturing technology and older ARM CPUs noted for high power consumption compared to more advanced products that debuted later. Now, a new report suggests the company is working on new devices — but it plans to bring the price down before it launches an advanced flavor.
That’s the word from Nikkei, which reports that a smaller version of the Switch based on portable play (but retaining the ability to hook to a TV) is in the works. This could make particular sense if Nintendo’s goal is to position a new Switch as a 3DS replacement.
A Tale of Two Switches?
Ever since Nintendo’s Game Boy, there’s been a default assumption that mobile and living room console gaming must be driven by two different machines. For most of computing history, there’s been little other choice — carrying a PS3 around in a large lithium-ion backpack wasn’t exactly an option.
Nintendo has always played the mobile game well, creating long-lived platforms that established themselves with their own unique games and capabilities. Even the 3DS, which stumbled badly out of the gate, recovered itself and went on to higher sales. The cheaper price points on these systems also made them popular with anyone who wanted to game but couldn’t afford the typically higher price of a living room console or the hardware it requires.
With 3DS sales collapsing, Nintendo may be looking to replace the revenue stream it earned from the platform and continue to cater to gamers with a smaller budget. It could also be aiming to create a market for the Switch that would be more explicitly kid-friendly than the current version of the device.
We would expect Nintendo to target a significantly lower price for the new handheld in order to create meaningful market segmentation between them. A $150 – $200 unit would also be aligned as a 3DS successor in a way the $300 Switch currently isn’t.
As for rumors of an enhanced Switch, Nikkei’s report pushes back on the idea that we might see such a product by the end of the year. USGamer quotes Nikkei as stating:
Beyond the smaller, budget-focused model lies the development of the overhauled next-generation model intended to replace the one currently available. Nintendo is believed to be experimenting on a number of different things for the device, including usability, improved image rendering, and changes to the operating system, among other things. One development source contends, however, that it still remains unclear at this stage who at the company will end up taking the lead on conceptual development for the new console.
This makes it sound as if the device is still in the early design phases. We’ve written before about the benefits Nintendo could realize with a new product based on 14nm or 7nm rather than the comparatively ancient 20nm technology used inside the current Switch. With that said, it’s not clear which Nvidia product Nintendo would actually want to use.
Unlike the Tegra X1, which featured a mixture of Cortex-A57 and Cortex-A53 cores, the Tegra X2 offers two Denver CPU cores and four A57s. Nvidia’s Xavier platform is built entirely around Nvidia’s custom CPU cores and based on Volta. It’s unlikely that Nintendo would tap a part intended explicitly for the automotive and deep learning markets for a handheld console.
It’s always possible that Nintendo could either pay Nvidia to shrink Tegra X1 to 12nm or 7nm in order to take advantage of the power consumption and performance improvements. Alternately, the company might invest in its own custom SoC for a next-generation Switch. This would be a substantial change for Nintendo, which has typically only introduced marginal updates to its consoles over time, but the market is also more used to these kinds of mid-life upgrades than it used to be. With the Switch now having sold over 32 million units, Nintendo might think the platform is robust enough to invest in at that level.