In the 2001 comedy, Spy Kids, the eponymous characters are outfitted with a bevy of radical gadgets to aid them in saving the world. One of these is a tricked out watch with a ton of stuff no one would ever think could be put into such a device. From GPS to Cable television feeds, you name it and the watch likely has it – except for a standard watch interface. There just wasn’t any room left (fridge logic would point out that all of those services show the time as well, but I digress). The joke would return shortly and everyone would have a hearty laugh. We laugh because it’s amusing how something so advanced could miss such basic design cues. Cue the Nintendo Switch and its much less humorous example of the same concept.
Let’s get this out of the way – I understand that Nintendo is a gamer’s game company. Their whole schtick is stellar gameplay in their first party games and iterating upon ubiquitous tech to create innovative, fun ways to interact with said games. My complaint lies not with their devotion to games, but the paucity of features of the console I’ll be playing them on this time around. Thing is, this isn’t the Wiimote or Wii U. Regardless of how well you think they delivered on their concepts, each subverted the paradigms surrounding their respective technologies in a meaningful way. I’d agree that the Joy-cons and seamless docking do the same. However, I’d also argue that the rest of the console is hardly even meeting the paradigm.
Many of you may have already come to this conclusion, but the Switch is essentially a tablet. That, and the conventions surrounding that form factor, are the crux of my hesitation surrounding the system. For the past few console generations, Nintendo seems to have had their own lane. It didn’t feel like they were directly competing with Microsoft and Sony on certain metrics and were able to secure their spot in many a living room by playing by their own rules. This allows them to innovate in the ways that we know and love, but has also let them skate around the two decade trend of “console as media machine” that started with the playstation. First it was CD audio, then DVD movies, then Bluray movies, photos and music/video service streaming and now we even have gameplay streaming. Nintendo systems have consistently offered support for a scant few of those. But they may have finally channeled a technology that excels at these things so much that there’s an expectation that they’ll be present.
To be blunt, I expect my tablet to be able to do these things: local audio playback, local video playback, local picture viewing, internet browsing, basic drawing applications and some form of content streaming. Notice how only one of those are unique to tablets and how Nintendo even worked that into their previous system. I think that these are reasonable demands for a standard console, much less one presenting itself as a tablet. So how am I supposed to feel when it’s been confirmed that there will be no browser, no video streaming service, no miiverse, no finalized virtual console plans, no finalized online multiplayer service plans or any word on local media playback by launch?
Those are some pretty big holes to have when your console launches in approximately two weeks. But I guess I was supposed to be so blown away by Arms and Breath of the Wild to care. I do have to give them credit for using a standard storage medium like SD cards (Sony, take notes) and for creating a port friendly architecture. Additionally, all of these seem to be software oriented problems, meaning they can potentially be patched in at some point. So don’t get me wrong, I’m not foretelling the demise of Nintendo’s new baby, I’m just not feeling the push to make the switch – not yet.