Unsurprisingly, many people were upset when Nintendo revealed the new Nintendo Switch OLED model since it wasn't the console many expected. I'm not blaming Nintendo for this. If anything, we know this misplaced hype was due to a mixture of fan excitement, insider reports that turned out to be false, speculation turned into fact, and misinformation spread around the internet rather than promises from Nintendo.
While having a 4K Switch with higher processing power and no need for a microSD card would be awesome, we're years away from a major Nintendo Switch upgrade. Here's why.
Switch Pro to OLED model What happened?
Nintendo never actually stated it was working on a more powerful console that would run 4K and have higher processing power. However, credible outlets were reporting through insider sources that Nintendo was working on some kind of hushed new Switch version. For instance, we learned months ago, thanks to Bloomberg, that this upcoming Switch was definitely going to have an OLED display. Additionally, some data mining through the Nintendo Switch's 12.0.0 update revealed that coding existed for a new dock.
With all this evidence, we kept waiting for the Japanese gaming company to clarify what was going on. However, Nintendo remained silent for so long that speculation grew until eventually several of the reports of "might" and "could" telephoned into "will" and "has". That was the internet's doing, not Nintendo's. As much as I'd love to see it, a 4K Switch doesn't even align with Nintendo's modus operandi.
Nintendo doesn't want to be cutting edge
Xbox and PlayStation may be fighting for control of the gaming market by trying to have the most memory, smoothest frame rates, and high-end graphics. By contrast, Nintendo focuses more on the gaming experience rather than graphics and CPUs.
That's not surprising at all given Nintendo's "Lateral Thinking with Seasoned Technology" way of doing things. This phrase comes from Gunpei Yokoi, long-time Nintendo employee, developer, creator of the Game & Watch, and original designer for the Game Boy, who said, "the Nintendo way of adapting technology is not to look for the state of the art but to utilize mature technology that can be mass-produced cheaply."
This describes the Nintendo Switch to a T. When the hybrid console released, it was already using an outdated SoC and didn't even match the high resolution of the latest TVs or phones. Using "seasoned" technology both allowed for the console to be cheaper and for Nintendo to experiment with trusted parts in order to Frankenstein a new hybrid handheld / console creation together. Nintendo has no interest in being the latest and greatest; it just wants to creatively enhance the user experience.
Why Nintendo isn't ready to make a Switch Pro with 4K just yet
If I'm being honest, I'm not even sure that Nintendo ever intends to create a more powerful Switch. If it does, it will be far down the line and might even be the next console generation rather than a Switch upgrade. That's due to strong sales and current resolution standards.
Strong Switch sales
The Nintendo Switch is currently in its fifth year, which for some companies would mean it's about time to start focusing on the next generation. However, Nintendo sales (both console and game sales) are stronger than ever and the company even stated in the Nintendo 2020 earnings report Q&A that it would be extending the Switch's life cycle since it did so well in 2020.
This success is partially thanks to the pandemic, which forced millions of people to look for indoor entertainment and thus added a large number of new Nintendo fans to the ranks. It's also no wonder the Switch has done so well in 2020 and 2021 when you consider that it's the most kid or family-friendly console and it costs the least compared to Xbox and PlayStation consoles.
So here's my question to you. Why would a company produce a massively different console version when its base one is still selling so well? This would cannibalize the sales of both systems. If anything, Nintendo will wait for Switch sales to dip before releasing a huge Switch upgrade. The OLED model is here to tide us over, much like how the 3DS, 3DS XL, and New 3DS XL were all small upgrades of the same basic device. We won't see a significant Switch upgrade until the current one is no longer a cash cow, which likely won't be for another year or two.
Switch resolution issues
If Nintendo suddenly opened itself up to 4K resolution, just about all of the games currently on the Switch would look absolutely horrible compared to those improved visuals. The current Switch does 720p in handheld mode, 1080p while docked to a TV, and not all games even take advantage of the full resolution abilities. Suddenly, Nintendo would have to run through its large library of Switch games and push resolution updates in order to make the 4K option worth buying. Not to mention, all the third-party developers who could afford to do so would feel compelled to do the same. Nintendo's not going to spend time doing that. It would take too many resources and would take away from current ongoing projects.
In my opinion, it won't be until the next Nintendo console generation releases that we get 4K and other major upgrades. Hopefully, this new console will offer backwards compatibility, but the cartridges and eShop labels will look different, like how DS cartridges differ from 3DS cartridges but can still be played on a 3DS. That way, Nintendo won't need to do a mass resolution upgrade.
Somewhere over the rainbow
There's a longstanding history of dissonance between what Nintendo owners want from their consoles and the realistic expectations of what Nintendo will produce. This was once again proved as internet hype surged over a fabled "Switch Pro," which Nintendo gave absolutely no indication of making. Regardless of what consumers want, Nintendo marches at its own pace and won't see any reason to make significant updates to the Switch until the current console is no longer viable.
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Gaming aficionado Rebecca Spear is iMore's dedicated gaming editor with a focus on Nintendo Switch and iOS gaming. You’ll never catch her without her Switch or her iPad Air handy. If you’ve got a question about Pokémon, The Legend of Zelda, or just about any other Nintendo series check out her guides to help you out. Rebecca has written thousands of articles in the last six years including hundreds of extensive gaming guides, previews, and reviews for both Switch and Apple Arcade. She also loves checking out new gaming accessories like iPhone controllers and has her ear to the ground when it comes to covering the next big trend.