The Nintendo Switch, formerly the Nintendo NX, debuted today, and it’s a strong win for Nintendo in a number of ways. Nintendo has taken everything people love about the company, namely its portable consoles and casual multiplayer games, and condensed it down into one console. It looks great, and if it can deliver on the promises of its first trailer, Nintendo is likely to have an enormous winner on its hands. But it’s also fascinating because Nintendo, with the Switch, is turning away from Microsoft and Sony, and towards Apple, Google, and the rest of the tablet and smartphone market. And anybody in that market should brace for impact.
A year ago, we talked about how Nintendo was heading in this direction, and it’s difficult to see even titans like Apple fighting with Nintendo. Nintendo is one of the most trusted, and beloved, brands in the world, with more than thirty years of manufacturing experience. They have a roster of beloved characters. They have a marketing and distribution reach that dwarfs almost any company in the market. And, probably the toughest aspect, Nintendo appears to be delivering a ridiculously powerful console for what will likely be a dirt cheap price for what you get, namely a dock to connect to your TV and an input device.
More fundamentally, the tablet market is mature enough to play directly to one of Nintendo’s core philosophies: Lateral Thinking With Withered Technology. Nintendo likes to combine technology that’s been on the market for a while in new and different ways, and that philosophy has, historically, paid off for them. You can see it all over the Switch, with its cartridge based games building off of technology from the DS and 3DS, with the controller that splits in half to serve as a Wiimote, and so on. When Switch units hit the market and are taken apart by nerds who have to know how everything’s assembled, it’s likely going to be built from parts you find in many tablets.
It’s worth remembering that Nintendo still, even now, views itself as a toy company. The Switch is unlikely to be positioned as a direct competitor to the iPad and the litany of Android offerings. Similarly, the Switch may not be able to deliver to quite the level Nintendo is promising in this trailer. Still, consumers are more likely to view the Switch as a tablet more than a game console. And Apple, Google, and others should be keeping a very close eye on the Switch, or they might discover what many, many other companies have already learned the hard way: Just because Nintendo shows up late to a party doesn’t mean it won’t take it over.