Nintendo's OLED Switch is the right move, just not for you

Commentary: Nintendo's updated Switch will sell millions of units -- even if it can't output in 4K.

Daniel Van Boom Senior Writer
Daniel Van Boom is an award-winning Senior Writer based in Sydney, Australia. Daniel Van Boom covers cryptocurrency, NFTs, culture and global issues. When not writing, Daniel Van Boom practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, reads as much as he can, and speaks about himself in the third person.
Expertise Cryptocurrency, Culture, International News
Daniel Van Boom
4 min read
Nintendo Switch OLED model
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Nintendo Switch OLED model

"I need the TLDR," a friend texted me a month ago. "Should I wait to buy a Nintendo Switch?" 

She's no gamer but, despite having not picked up a controller in years, knew an updated Switch was in the works. Wanting to secure a birthday surprise for her boyfriend, she had done some Googling and chanced upon rumors on Nintendo's worst-kept secret. I told her the new model might be called the Switch Pro, might support 4K and might be worth waiting for. 

Not so. The new model doesn't support 4K, and it's not called the Switch Pro. Actually, I don't know what it's called. Switch OLED? Switch with OLED? Regardless, as the name -- whatever it is -- suggests, its main improvement is the OLED display. 

It'll be 0.8-inches bigger than the regular Switch's 6.2-inch screen, with deeper blacks and better contrast. Other touted features include an improved kickstand and "enhanced audio." In other words, it's anything but a generational leap. These modest improvements come with a modest price hike. The Switch Deluxe launches at $350 on Oct. 8, at just $50 more than the Non OLED Switch.

That seems fair, but the online reaction hasn't been kind. That's because, like me, it appears most people anticipated more. An upgraded Nintendo Switch was first reported by Bloomberg some 11 months ago -- long enough for imaginations flourish and expectations to soar. 

And those inflated expectations are the issue here -- not the New and Slightly Improved Switch. If it was a surprise announcement, gamers would have met the new edition with a polite "fair enough." It's only against hopes of substantial hardware improvements, and existing owners wanting a decent reason to upgrade, that the reaction becomes " Nintendo ruined everything again!" 

Don't get me wrong. If I had it my way, Nintendo would have announced a Switch Pro with 4K resolution, a new graphics chip and better battery life. I'd also fix the ongoing drift issues with the console's Joy-Cons, and its lack of native bluetooth support -- which is absurd at this point. But with the Nintendo SWOLED, Nintendo isn't trying to get my dollar. There are millions of people who care about 4K gaming, but there are billions who play games that don't. 

Nintendo is after that second group.

Nintendo Switch's Half-life

The NintendOLED Switch makes sense for a few reasons. 

First, Nintendo isn't yet interested in the Switch 2 or anything resembling a next-generation console. Doug Bowser, Nintendo America's hilariously named president, told Polygon in December that we're at around the "midpoint" of the Switch's lifecycle. Since the Switch has sold more units each year -- 15 million in 2017's financial year, 17 million in 2018, 20 million in 2019, 26 million in 2020 -- Nintendo rightly sees that it doesn't need to do anything drastic with the console's hardware. A gentle nudge, like a bigger and clearer display, should keep the money flowing. 

This is the company's modus operandi. Do you remember the 3DS XL , the DS Lite , and the Game Boy Advance SP ? Of course you do! They were awesome. But don't forget the 2DS , the 2DS XL, the DSi , DSi XL , the backlit Game Boy Advance SP and the Game Boy Advance Micro -- which Nintendo released almost a year after the original DS. 

"Extend Console Lifespan with Iterative Models" isn't catchy, but it's the name of the game. 

Like all of the aforementioned renovated models, the OLED Switch has two goals. It serves diehard fans, numbering in the millions, who flock to buy any new Nintendo console. Second, and more importantly, it provides an extra option to people who haven't bought a Switch yet.  

The console has sold over 84 million units since 2017, about 16 million shy of becoming the best-selling Nintendo home console ever. But the company isn't scraping the barrel for more buys, as there are hundreds of millions of potential sales yet to be realized, and it's these to whom Nintendo are appealing by adding to the Switch hardware range. It's a push for those who've been on the fence since 2017, or those who have rekindled their love of gaming during the pandemic. It'll also help build hype for Metroid Dread, which launches on the same day, as well as Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl

The company's calculus appears as follows: Switch OLED +Metroid Dead xholiday sales multiplier =a Merry Christmas for Nintendo. I suspect the math will check out. 

Nintendo has always prized accessibility over technical prowess, which is how the Wii, DS and 3DS all became huge successes. I suspect Nintendo will eventually create a 4K-capable console when it can do so cheaply enough to sell it for under $400 -- by which time Sony and Microsoft will already be onto 8K. 

It's not a bad strategy. When my friend texted me for Switch advice -- something she's unlikely to do ever again -- she decided against waiting to buy her partner a newer, more powerful Switch. 

 "Do you have a 4K TV? Does he care about 4K graphics?," I asked. "We do," she answered, "he doesn't."