New report from Taiwanese paper DigiTimes squares with previous report from The Wall Street Journal, but should be taken with a grain of salt. [Updated]
Since its release in 2017, the Nintendo Switch has enjoyed incredible success across the globe, selling 17.5 million units in North America to date (as of Thanksgiving week) and likely upwards of 50 million worldwide, although the official tally as of September still stands at 41.7 million. Whether or not the Switch can reach the heights of the Wii and surpass 100 million remains to be seen, but Nintendo has been leveraging its iterative hardware approach to extend the Switch’s lifespan already with the newer, bigger battery model and the Switch Lite. If the latest report from Taiwanese newspaper DigiTimes proves true, then we’ll see a fourth version of the Switch later this year.
Citing sources in the supply chain, DigiTimes claims that Nintendo is about to enter production on a new model of Switch hardware by the end of the first quarter, with the aim to hit the market by the middle of the year. DigiTimes’ track record on scoops in the video game arena and technology in general (such as its frequent reports on Apple) has been mixed at best, so it may be hard to put a ton of stock in this latest Nintendo report.
NPD industry analyst Mat Piscatella commented on Twitter, “Nintendo's benchmark upgrade path on hardware has been in place... forever. What they like competing against (and what they don't) is part of the DNA at this point. I'd take any rumors with copious grains of salt. Shrug.”
The devil’s in the details, of course. DigiTimes notes that the new model would have an updated CPU and an alloy body, but the new iteration isn’t likely to offer substantial improvements over previous versions or expected to compete with a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. Based on Nintendo’s history with handhelds like the Game Boy and DS, it would appear that the company is deliberately releasing iterative upgrades to continue to grow the user base, and therefore extend the Switch’s place on the market.
It’s worth noting that the DigiTimes report aligns with what The Wall Street Journal previously hinted at over the summer. The Journal’s Takashi Mochizuki made sure to point this out on Twitter. “I reported in Aug 2019: ‘Nintendo has ideas for further updates to the Switch lineup after those two models to make the platform’s lifecycle long’,” he wrote, referring to the already released Switch Lite and bigger battery versions.
The reports can’t be taken as fact at this juncture, but like Microsoft and Sony, who have iterated on their hardware this generation, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect Nintendo to continue to do so. If a newer Switch model can offer slightly higher resolution, faster load times, or (again) better battery life without alienating the existing installed base, there isn’t a ton of downside for the Kyoto company.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Nintendo will launch a ‘Switch Pro’ in 2020, my guess is at $399,” Kantan Games’ Dr. Serkan Toto commented to GI.biz in an analyst predictions round-up. “More specifically, I predict 4K support, bigger cartridge sizes, and of course beefed-up components. I also think the device will launch after the summer holidays to counter the roll-out of the PS5 and next-gen Xbox later in the year - along with a first-party, system-seller game.”
IHS Markit’s Piers Harding-Rolls shares Piscatella’s skepticism, however. “I think the likelihood of a higher-end Switch in 2020 has significantly diminished since the launch of an improved flagship Switch and the Switch Lite,” he remarked to GI.biz.
SuperData's managing director, Joost van Dreunen, is not convinced either, calling the DigiTimes report "extremely speculative and likely untrue," and "an article based on the hunch of an industry consultant without any sourcing or transparency in how they came to know this information."
That said, van Dreunen acknowledges that there is a "case to be made for Nintendo to pursue a higher end of the market with a beefed up Switch, but Nintendo knows better than to go against the marketing budgets of its main competitors during 2020. It would also put strain on its third-party relationships, since Nintendo would be asking everyone to release a souped up version of their current titles at a time when they are already putting most of their resources towards developing for other upcoming devices and cloud gaming platforms.”
Regardless of whether or not a so-called Switch Pro becomes a reality this year, most analysts think Nintendo will once again find itself atop the console heap in 2020. DFC Intelligence previously told GameDaily that the Switch would outsell all competitors in 2020. In his predictions for GI.biz, Harding-Rolls went so far as to say that “2020 is also set to be Switch's best hardware sales performance since launch.”
In truth, Nintendo doesn’t need to do a thing. We should find out if these reports hold water soon enough. In the meantime, you can bet that Nintendo’s talented engineers are continuing to plug away furiously at whatever Nintendo’s true next-gen hardware design is shaping up to be.
(Updated 1/6/2020 with comments from SuperData)
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