Nintendo Switch OLED: Why It's Coming Now

Nintendo just announced another Switch hardware revision--it wasn't what everyone was expecting, but it's right out of Nintendo's playbook.

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Nintendo made waves on Tuesday with the announcement of the Nintendo Switch OLED model, a new version of the immensely popular console with a bigger, better screen. The new system also has 64 GB of internal storage (up from 32 GB), a dock with a built-in ethernet port, and improved audio. However, the system doesn't have any of the rumored "Pro" features like 4K support or a faster processor. Nintendo subsequently confirmed to The Verge that the Switch OLED "does not have a new CPU, or more RAM, from previous Nintendo Switch models."

Even without those features, the Nintendo Switch OLED is likely to be yet another successful hardware release for Nintendo and one that makes sense for the company given its history, according to analysts speaking with GameSpot. They shared insight on why now is the right time to release the Switch OLED, why the OG Switch could be phased out, and if the rumored "Pro" model could still release sometime down the road.

Plenty Of Demand

The Switch OLED model costs $350 USD and launches on October 8, the same day that Nintendo's much-anticipated Metroid: Dread is due for release (no word yet on a Metroid-specific model, though we can hope). Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said he believes the $350 price point demonstrates Nintendo's belief that this thing is going to sell like wild, which should be no surprise given how well the system has done in the market so far.

"I think that the pricing tells you Nintendo expects plenty of demand, given that they are introducing it at a HIGHER price four years after the first one launched, while maintaining the introductory price for the original," Pachter said.

For his money, Pachter believes a large number of people to upgrade from the standard Switch model to the OLED edition, and that pricing for all Switch models won't change until demand slows down. That's not likely to happen until 2022 at the very soonest, Pachter says.

Another key factor at play here is that, as Pachter sees it, Nintendo understands people love to play Switch in handheld mode, and the new OLED system with a better screen may be in response to that. Thinking about it that way, Pachter sees the Switch OLED as being akin to what the PlayStation Vita was for the PSP.

"Better display and storage, same internal chipset, so better looking on the handheld, identical on the TV," Pachter said. "If there is a takeaway here, it's that people use it a LOT as a handheld, so this is an improvement over the current model in the same way that PlayStation Vita was an improvement over the PSP."

Behold, the Switch OLED
Behold, the Switch OLED

Piers Harding-Rolls of Ampere Analysis tells GameSpot that the Switch OLED has some notable and important improvements over the original model, though he also noted that the new model is a play toward the portable market.

"Most of the main [improvements] are focused on portable play--the 7" OLED screen, better storage, a better stand, and enhanced audio in handheld/tabletop mode. Nintendo quotes the same battery life for the OLED version as the current flagship which is encouraging," he said.

Nintendo's own data from 2017 of Nintendo Account users showed that 30% of Switch owners play in handheld mode for more than 80% of the time, which compares to 20% who play in docked mode more than 80% of the time.

NPD analyst Mat Piscatella tells GameSpot that the Switch OLED might appeal not only to Switch owners looking to upgrade, but also fans looking for a PlayStation or Xbox but can't find one.

"Given the ongoing supply constraints impacting Xbox and PlayStation hardware, having a revised Switch model on shelves is going to be an appealing option both for intended Switch buyers, as well as for those that may be disappointed when they cannot find other new consoles available," he said.

Right Out Of Nintendo's Playbook

NPD analyst Mat Piscatella, who regularly shares his video game industry observations with his Twitter followers, said no one should be surprised to see Nintendo update the Switch in this way. As he reminds us, Nintendo released numerous revisions of its portable systems over the years when it still operated in that business, and now this way of thinking is being applied to the Switch. Releasing these revisions, for Nintendo's portable systems in years past, helped stabilize the demand curve and "firm up" average selling prices, Piscatella said.

"They were about maintaining sales performance, and preventing the pull of price drops and stale inventory. The Switch OLED is right out of this successful playbook," Piscatella said.

For Harding-Rolls, he believes Nintendo will eventually phase out the original Switch model and put its emphasis on the Switch OLED. Like Pachter, he also believes existing Switch owners will likely choose to upgrade to the OLED edition, despite its lack of improvements to graphics.

"Given the small price difference between the OLED and current flagship Switch, I think this will eventually replace the older version," he explained. "I also expect some existing flagship owners to upgrade to the OLED version even without the additional graphical power. This launch will drive momentum for Switch sales in Q4 2021 and also improve hardware [average selling prices]."

The Switch is already on top of the world as it relates to sales, with 84.59 million units sold as of March 31, and the new OLED model could accelerate that further. Nintendo has not said anything about stock levels for the console, but it's expected the system will be hard to find right now due to the overall popularity of gaming, the general uptick in sales in the fourth quarter, and the ongoing semiconductor shortages.

This is not the first hardware revision for the Switch, either, as the Switch Lite debuted back in September 2019 as a handheld-only machine that was less expensive and aimed principally at people who wanted to play away from a TV. The new OLED model lets users enjoy both modalities of play, and now with a better screen (for a higher price).

"This model will help maintain sales velocity of the Switch during the holiday quarter, while also giving stability to average selling prices of Switch overall," Piscatella tells GameSpot.

"The packaging is slick, the new screen and speakers are good for front of box, and I'm sure this product will do quite well, particularly during the gifting season."

Switch Pro Could Still Happen

For months now, we've seen reports from multiple distinct sources saying Nintendo is working on a new Switch model featuring an improved chipset that could display games in 4K. The Switch OLED doesn't do this, so many were left wondering if that Pro model could still happen.

Piscatella still has an "improved tech version" of the Switch in his first half of 2022 forecast, which is where he's had it "for a few years now." Whether or not Nintendo will actually deliver the goods is anyone's guess. "Who knows if it'll happen though," Piscatella said.

Harding-Rolls acknowledged that there is portion of the gaming audience that will be disappointed by the announcement of the Switch OLED, given they were hoping for a system with better performance and graphics. However, Harding-Rolls believes Nintendo is making the right move here to help the Switch model appeal even more to the mainstream.

"While the enthusiast Nintendo gamer may feel disappointed considering the long-term rumours that have been circulated about a more powerful 4K Switch, it's likely that Nintendo is focused on attracting later adopters across more mainstream demographics--those that will benefit from better screen legibility and audio for social play," he said.

The ongoing semiconductor shortages are impacting numerous technology companies, including Nintendo, which recently acknowledged the impact this is having on the Switch. Whether or not these issues affected the Switch OLED or the rumored Switch Pro, however, remains to be seen, and given the industry's penchant for secrecy, we may never know. For what it's worth, Nintendo has confirmed it's constantly developing new hardware, so fans holding out for a beefed-up Switch model could get it someday down the road.

"The Switch was already almost guaranteed to be the best-selling console of the year, as well as the calendar fourth quarter. The Switch OLED model certainly doesn't hurt that position and will even likely help a bit," Piscatella says. "Is it the much touted and rumored 'Pro' or 'Super' model so many reports promised? No. But then again, it doesn't need to be. It's a somewhat conservative iteration that is well positioned for its release timing."

Keep checking back with GameSpot for lots more on the Switch OLED in the days and weeks ahead.

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