What Will A Switch Pro Be?
For over a year now there has been talk of Nintendo working on a ‘pro’ version of their Nintendo Switch console. Many of these rumours steamed from reports of a new hardware model in development which turned out to be the revised Switch with improved battery life and the Switch Lite that released last September. ‘Pro’ versions of consoles have been introduced this generation with both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 receiving mid-cycle upgrades that improved power and performance. With Nintendo’s hybrid console underpowered upon its release, compared to the base versions of Sony’s and Microsoft’s offerings, it is understandable that many feel the Switch could use a performance boost especially with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X only going to widen that power gap further.
With over 53 million units sold worldwide, including the Switch Lite, there is no question that Nintendo has produced a run-away success with the Switch. So how do they go about improving it? Personally I think that there are two directions Nintendo could take.
While being a fantastic bit of hardware there are certainly ways the core Nintendo Switch design could be improved. The most obvious way would be to add more power. The Switch excels at its main purpose of playing Nintendo games but third-party support is still limited due to its power deficiency compared to other consoles and PC’s. The Switch is designed around the Nvidia Tegra X1 chip, a chip that Nvidia have already improved upon with their release of the Tegra X2 since the Switch release in 2017. While this new chip still wouldn’t provide parody with the other consoles it would provide a power boost and give third-party developers some extra processing power to help with any potential ports.
Along with an increase in power a Switch ‘Pro’ should also look to increase picture resolution. Currently the Switch has a 720p 6.2inch screen and can, in some games, upscale to 1080p when docked to a TV. With the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 looking to make 4K standard within gaming then 720p just isn’t good enough in the console market, especially when phones and tablets can achieve higher than that to. While 4K is likely too much of an ask for gaming on the Switch, we should at least see 1080p in both handheld and docked mode.
To help compete with next gen visuals it would also be fantastic if a Switch Pro could support HDR in some capacity. 4K isn’t required for HDR and in many cases the increased colour range does more for picture quality that the actual resolution. Although 4K gaming is not realistic, a potential Switch revision could allow for 4K streaming when docked to allow for apps such as Netflix and Disney+ to be viewed in their highest quality via a docked Switch.
When looking at the overall form factor of the Switch I think Nintendo has already given us a look into their thinking with the Switch Lite. This was an all in one system that abandoned detachable Joy-Cons in favour of a cleaner design. This is understandable as although impressive in their design, few games have actually taken advantage of the Joy-Cons functionality. So how would the Switch communicate with the TV for docked play? Well firstly I imagine that anyone who is tempted by a ‘pro’ Nintendo Switch will likely use a Switch Pro Controller and not the Joy-Con grip as the Pro Controller provides a far superior experience. When not using a Pro Controller though I think a newly designed dock could help solve those issues.
The current Nintendo Switch dock doesn’t actually do much. It purely charges and transfers the signal to the TV via a HDMI cable. A redesign could offer a lot more to the overall experience including the ability to do asymmetrical play. This means that you could use your Switch as a controller while the image is streamed to your TV via the dock, not so unsimilar to how Nintendo designed the Wii U. This could then allow users to have a ‘second screen experience’ on their Switch such as access to maps or menus. This kind of communication could also be implemented in other ways, this we will get to later though. My vision for a redesigned dock also removes the front panel found on the current model and instead has the screen exposed. While this might not sound great at first, the current dock is actually notorious for scratching screens and so would likely be welcomed by Switch owners. This exposed screen could then also provide additional functionality when docked such as notification alerts to help keep your game screen uncluttered.
So with a high end version of the current Switch a possibility there is another option that Nintendo could take, in a same but different approach to the Switch Lite. What if Nintendo made a dock only Switch?
This might sound silly at first as a ‘dock only’ Switch would be incapable of ‘switching’ due to it not having a screen. The key factor being that the Switch Lite is already without this feature as it can’t be docked to a TV, instead opting for a handheld only experience. A ‘dock only’ Switch would likely be much cheaper too as it would be without a screen, speakers or integrated controllers and instead ship only with the console and a controller, preferably a Switch Pro Controller or updated model.
For me I like having the flexibility of playing in handheld or docked mode but there are plenty of people out there that never remove their Switch from the dock and so a cheaper console that offers this experience would likely be a tempting proposal. This ‘dock only’ Switch could also feature any increase to power that a Switch Pro may receive to help bring it in line with the other consoles on the market.
An interesting addition to this argument is based on new reports about a dual-screen Switch. Now I personally cannot see Nintendo reverting back to the 3DS design as no current Switch games are built to take advantage of that dual-screen system. I can however see this being some kind of asymmetrical play, like mentioned early for the Switch Pro dock, to allow a Switch Lite to communicate with a ‘dock only’ version of the Switch and act as a controller. This would then allow for a Switch Lite to act as the touch input for any of the games that require that kind of control.
With these two updated versions alongside the Switch Lite, Nintendo would then have three options for consumers to choose from. The more expensive ‘Pro’ model that incorporates all features or one of two cheaper alternatives focused around handheld or TV play respectively.
While we are unlikely to see any Switch upgrades this year, especially with the current global situation, I think it’s safe to assume that Nintendo is working on ways to improve their console and continue its success alongside the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
Personally, I would expect Nintendo to possibly look at March 2021 as a possible reveal/release of any upgrade as this will be the base version of the Nintendo Switch’s 4th anniversary and just enough breathing room past the next gen launches to get people excited.
If or when Nintendo chooses to release new hardware be sure to check back here for all the latest information.