Yesterday, Nintendo released a trailer for its next-gen device, a console/handheld hybrid. There are some weird moments in the trailer—really, you're highlighting a built-in kickstand?—but in all it looks like a cool piece of tech. The upshot is ultimate portability and versatility: you can play a game on your big TV at home, then literally pull the device from the dock and take it with you. You can use the two-piece portable controller separately, or slide them onto the mobile screen to turn it into something like the PS Vita. You can watch videos. There's Mario, there's Zelda, there's even... Skyrim? And sports games? Huh.
It looks pretty cool, I have to admit. Take a look.
But as cool as all of that is, I have some questions about how big the market will be—if nothing else because the single-use portable games device is definitely a dying breed, just like the single-use e-reader is. Nintendo's competition here isn't the PS4, the XBone, or any future-gen device. It's the iPad and the Kindle Fire. It bears nothing that when my own kids got Kindles, their much-beloved and heavily-used DSes were stuck in a drawer and never really came out again.
It looks like you can watch videos on a Switch, sure. But can you chat with your friends? Play around with music.ly? Can you take selfies or play a little Hamilton or check to see if your ride home is getting close? If you can't, then the Switch is a runner-up device at best, and will always lose out. (That's not even getting into the huge psychological difference between $40-$70 console games vs. $5 mobile games, no matter how the playable hours-per-dollar works out.)
There's also a space issue that gives me pause. I live in a multi-user and multi-device house. The dock to your big TV is great, but what happens if you get three or four of those bad boys? Do you get a new dock every time, like it or not? Since it's mobile I'm assuming there is another way to charge, or do you need to dock for, say, crucial software updates? The thought that I might need four docks in a row sitting in my living room is already annoying me, and the device isn't even out until March.
And those tiny little snap-on controller handles...in the configuration as a single remote controller it looks unusably tiny to me. It's going to be even more difficult for a small child with developing motor skills, usually Nintendo's core market. And it's just begging to get lost, stepped on, cracked—it does not look like a robust piece of gear. Guess Nintendo lost the memo about how fewer moving pieces makes for a better and more durable device.
And finally, I'm not actually sure that taking your games with you is even as big a draw as all that. It sounds great, yes, but different games excel in different environments. Skyrim on a mobile screen isn't going to seem quite particularly sweeping and epic; it's going to feel crowded. There's a pretty fundamental difference in how to design games for seven-inch and seventy-inch screens, so are designers going to need to essentially create two distinct games and interfaces in parallel?
It might be great. It might sell millions or billions! And I've been wrong about this stuff before. But I can't get over the feeling that this would have been really, really, really cool...seven years ago, before the iPad changed everything.