Nintendo Switch Pro: Analysts Conflicted on a 2021 Release
It’s a new year, and a new cycle of game announcements are on the horizon – and many think one of the biggest will be the release of an updated Switch model, the Switch Pro. With rumors continuing to swirl, IGN asked several industry analysts for their predictions on this.
The Nintendo Switch is approaching its fourth year in production, but rumors of multiple Switch upgrades have dogged Nintendo since at least 2019 when multiple reports claimed Nintendo is working on new, upgraded Switch models beyond the base unit and the Switch Lite.
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2019 that Nintendo had plans for further Switch updates to keep the life cycle of the system long, and supply chains have suggested there are plans for “improved” models with better features and screens
This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a “Switch Pro” – after all, Nintendo has already released an updated Switch SKU with longer battery life, but similar components and features as the base model.
When analysts speculate on what features a Switch Pro will, or should, include, it is typically centered on processing power and the capability to play high-resolution, or even 4K games. Analysts and observers have stressed that when the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X launch, Nintendo will need a more powerful device to maintain parity with third-party games and developers.
There are also additional factors that weren’t present in 2019 that should be factored into Nintendo’s future hardware plans, namely the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Both analysts and console producers at Sony and Microsoft have said the pandemic could result in hardware delays for the foreseeable future, and new software slated for 2021 is already being pushed back or delayed.
One should also take into account the tremendous success Nintendo is seeing with the current Nintendo Switch. Sales for the consoles have consistently beat expectations, and the Switch has been the best-selling console for two years straight. With this kind of momentum, some analysts don’t see a pressing need to introduce a “Pro” model.
With that said, here are what top analysts think about the possibility of a Switch Pro in 2021.
Serkan Toto; Kantan Games – ‘I think a Switch Pro will come in the second half of 2021’
Toto, a Tokyo-based industry consultant, has been an avid proponent of a Switch Pro for years and feels that 2021 is the right time for a Switch Pro as a way to piggyback off the financial success of the current Switch model, but also to sustain sales going forward.
In 2020, the Nintendo president himself shot down the possibility of a Pro launch that year. That was in January, so Covid did not have an influence
I believe the momentum was so big already that Nintendo didn’t need a Pro model to sustain sales.
Fast forward to today, and the momentum is still there, but I think that four years after the launch of the original model, it is now indeed time for a refresh.
Nintendo doesn’t compete directly with Sony or Microsoft, but they do need third-party support and need to make sure the technological gap between the Switch and the next-gen consoles doesn’t make it too hard to create ports for the Switch.
It is also a crucial factor in prolonging the life cycle of the device: according to the Nintendo president himself, the Switch is in the middle of its life cycle now, so a new model coming soon would make sense from that perspective.
I think a Switch Pro will come in the second half of 2021, and just like the Lite was launched with a new Zelda, the Pro is likely to debut together with a blockbuster title.
One key differentiator will be 4K support: I know, nobody needs to see Pikachu in 4K, but Zelda and a bunch of other games would look so much better in higher resolution.
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Michael Pachter; Wedbush Securities – ‘I would err on the side of “no” for this year’
Pachter, a longtime industry analyst and figure is more cautious and says there won’t be a new model this year. However, Pachter doesn’t rule out a new Switch model entirely, either.
It’s a close call. Nintendo doesn’t “need” a new model, since the current Switch is selling so well. More likely, it will introduce a new model at the same time as it cuts price on the old one, or more likely, will keep the Switch Lite and cut it to $149 or so with the Switch Pro replacing the normal Switch at $299.
I would err on the side of “no” for this year, mostly because they were out of stock on Switch for so long and chose to ramp up production. However, I expect we’ll see a new one next year.
David Cole; DFC Intelligence – ‘Nintendo can accomplish a lot just by making minor tweaks’
Cole of DFC Intelligence, a US-based strategic marketing firm, believes not only that a Switch Pro is unlikely in 2021, but that analysts and observers should re-consider what a “Switch Pro” will look like. Rather than a massive technological leap with 4K graphics, Cole suggests the Switch Pro will be iterative similar to the improved battery model Nintendo released in 2019 alongside the Switch Lite.
Normally we don’t like to speculate on unannounced products like a Switch Pro but in this case, I am willing to go on record saying I think it is unlikely there will be a major new console from Nintendo in 2021. However, there may be some tweaks to the existing Switch. Whether that is enough to call it a “new system” or even a Switch Pro, I think is unlikely.
There are lots of reasons there is no rush to launch a radical new Nintendo system, but I think the main reason is it doesn’t make much business sense.
With companies like Nintendo new hardware systems are always in development so rumors run rampant. However, the bottom line is Nintendo has no need to rush a new hardware product to market.
The COVID situation changed the market substantially. Nintendo struggled to met unprecedented demand in terms of manufacturing its current Switch system. They have currently caught up but manufacturing is still risky in this environment as it is hard to predict if a flare-up could slow things down again. Given that situation, it does not make sense to risk trying to start manufacturing a totally new system.
If you go online you can see all kinds of bundles for Switch hardware, some ranging up to $500. Not just bundled games, but different colors and different themes like Animal Crossing or Fortnite where they can charge a premium.
The beauty of the Switch is that it is also a mobile device. That means that a Switch owning family actually is likely to need two or more Switch consoles so each family member can play. So there is still a lot of sales potential among the current installed base.
A new Switch Pro type system would basically be a way to get existing Switch owners to upgrade. However, there are more profitable ways for Nintendo to accomplish this. Software and services are far more profitable to Nintendo than new hardware which has a high upfront cost as it goes into initial manufacturing. The goal of Nintendo is to generate more revenue per user. Obviously, a Switch Pro would do that on a raw basis but it would take money away from their existing users who otherwise might be buying more profitable software and services.
A lot of the hype comes down to people expecting an entirely new Switch system versus upgrades to the existing system.
That is a long way to say that there may be an upgraded Switch in 2021 but consumers expecting a radical change are likely to be disappointed. Nintendo has already made several updates to Switch hardware to take advantage of improvements in technology. I expect they will continue to do so. For marketing purposes, they may call it a Switch Pro but I think if they do consumers will be disappointed so Nintendo may not choose to go that route.
What many seem to speculate as Switch Pro/Switch 2 is a powerful system that supports 4K and more. That is what I think is unlikely. From a business perspective, Nintendo can accomplish a lot just by making minor tweaks. At what point that system is called a Switch Pro or a new system is the issue.
Our bet on Nintendo is that we will see a big new software lineup that looks to take advantage of the stay-at-home orders that are causing video game sales to soar.
Nintendo has often kept its hardware plans close to the chest, making it difficult to predict what the company will do next. Consider the leap from the GameCube to the Wii and then to the Switch.
While our analysts on the whole agree that the Nintendo Switch cannot remain static, opinions differ on both the timeline for when new Switch models will be released, to what features the new Switch “Pro” might include.
With so many questions still left, and a whole year ahead of us, do you believe a Switch Pro will be likely in 2021? And if so will it be a full-throated 4K upgrade or something more modest?
Matt T.M. Kim is a reporter for IGN.