Pokemon scarlet nintendo switch oled and pokemon violet nintendo switch v1

Should You Buy an OLED Switch or Wait for the Refresh?

The Nintendo Switch has been on store shelves for six years now. How much longer before Nintendo rolls out the system's successor?
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The Nintendo Switch has now been on the market for nearly six years. That’s a long time for a home console, but the Switch is a strange case. It’s a hybrid system that is equally equipped to serve as your home console or as your dedicated handheld gaming device, or anything in between. 

The base-model Switch is showing its age these days. It’s got noisy fans, an outdated LCD screen, and tiny speakers that struggle to put out high-quality audio. Thankfully, Nintendo gave the system a mid-life refresh with the notably better OLED model, but even that updated Switch is still running an outdated Tegra chipset that leaves it woefully underpowered compared to competitors like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

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So, with the Switch getting a bit long in the tooth and modern games getting bigger and bolder by the year, how much longer will Nintendo stick with the Switch as its main console? Should you buy an OLED Switch now, or is it time to wait for a successor to come along and blow everyone’s mind? Let’s take a look at Nintendo’s past to try to glean some hints for the future.

Been There, Done That

Girl playing pokemon scarlet nintendo switch oled

Nintendo has been around for a long time. In fact, it was founded in 1889 as a playing card company. Over the years, Nintendo has dipped its toes into making other types of cards, board games, and toys. In the 1970s, the company began experimenting with electronic toys, which eventually led it to create video games. The rest, as they say, is history.

In short, Nintendo knows what it’s doing when it comes to longevity. The original NES system was on the market for only four years when its successor, the SNES, came out in 1990. However, Nintendo continued to support the NES well into the 1990s, only discontinuing the system in 1995. Likewise, the SNES had a short time in the sun before Nintendo released its follow-up, the Nintendo 64, in 1996. 

That would prove to be one of the longest gaps between Nintendo home consoles so far, though, as the GameCube hit the scene in 2001 and sent the underperforming N64 to the console graveyard. Again, the GameCube only had about five years of active support before the Wii system was released in 2006, though the Wii featured full backward compatibility with the GameCube’s games and controllers. Finally, the Wii U supplanted the Wii in 2012, marking another six-year lifespan for the mainline Nintendo hardware.

The Switch Changed Things

The Switch hit the gaming industry like a speeding truck in 2017, replacing the Wii U after only five years of active support. After the Wii made Nintendo millions of dollars and broke records all over the place, the Wii U was a bit of a letdown. The Switch saw Nintendo reenter the conversation as a major player in the gaming industry, as its unique design completely rewrote how the company could make and market its games.

For decades, Nintendo simultaneously supported both dedicated home consoles and massively popular handheld systems. The GameBoy and Nintendo DS lineups of systems were consistent crowd-pleasers that offered smaller-scale games that could fit in players’ pockets. The Switch offered a paradigm shift because it rolled those two ecosystems together, blurring the line between “smaller” handheld games and “premium” home console fare.

The clearest example of how this has changed Nintendo’s business model can be seen in the Pokemon franchise. The mainline entries in the long-running RPG series had been handheld exclusives since the franchise debuted in the mid-90s, but the Switch’s arrival forced developer Game Freak to finally make a “full-sized” console game in the Pokemon series. After all, the company couldn’t put another game on the aging Nintendo 3DS when the Switch had already been on the market for two years.

Outdated from the Start

While the Switch impressed critics and gamers alike with its seamless hybrid gameplay modes, it wasn’t without its problems. As noted earlier, the system is running on downright antiquated hardware. Even when the system launched in March 2017, the chipset powering its games was starting to show its age. Nintendo opted for a budget-friendly Nvidia Tegra X1 chipset for the Switch’s innards, which kept production costs down and allowed the company to sell the system for a somewhat-reasonable $300 price.

However, the Tegra chip isn’t exactly setting benchmarks for high-end gaming. Modern Switch games like Pokemon Scarlet and Violet clearly struggle to run at a stable framerate on the device, and multiplatform titles like Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga look notably more jagged and sluggish on the Nintendo system.

This lacking technical performance has led to many gamers speculating that Nintendo could roll out a “Switch Pro” console with an updated chipset. However, when the company announced the OLED Switch in mid-2021, there was no mention of enhanced graphical performance or processing. The OLED model features a gorgeous screen and better industrial design than its predecessor, but it’s still running on the same hardware that powers the launch-model Switch.

When Is the Successor Coming?

Let’s address that elephant in the room. Nintendo usually updates its home consoles every five or six years. Even the red-hot Wii system got replaced six years after its release, despite soaring sales and positive reviews. Notably, the Wii was incapable of producing HD images, which made it laughably underpowered compared to then-competitors Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. 

The Wii U, for its own part, was capable of producing HD images but suffered from a lack of brand identity and a general lack of interest from fans. And while the system did technically receive official support from Nintendo until 2017, it had nearly no exclusive games from the company in 2016. Its only notable release in the back half of its lifespan was Breath of the Wild, a truly phenomenal game that also happened to be a launch title for the Switch. 

As such, the Switch is in an unusual position for Nintendo. It’s still selling very well and is getting a slew of notable first-party games in 2023, including the highly anticipated Zelda sequel Tears of the Kingdom. Will Nintendo continue to support the console through 2024, or should fans expect a refresh by the end of this year? And, moreover, what kind of successor could Nintendo reasonably release for the revolutionary hybrid console?

Switch 2: This Time, It’s Got 4K

The fan wishlist for the hypothetical “Switch 2” system is pretty straightforward. Players want to see a hybrid console with an OLED screen capable of putting out a 1080p image in handheld mode and a 4K image while docked. Some have noted that Nintendo could include more powerful graphical processing hardware in the follow-up console’s dock, allowing the manufacturers to keep the handheld tablet lightweight and gentler on battery consumption.

Others have noted that this relatively iterative “spec refresh” scenario doesn’t sound like the modern Nintendo business model. It’s been a long time since Nintendo released a system that was just a strict hardware upgrade over a previous entry. The Wii introduced motion controls, the Wii U relied heavily on its experimental GamePad controller, and the Switch jumped fully into the hybrid console design.

Would Nintendo be comfortable with releasing a strictly more powerful Switch successor and calling that a day? Given the system’s unparalleled sales performance and the extreme popularity of its handheld mode, it’s hard to see them doing anything else. There’s also another factor that makes it likely Nintendo’s next console sticks to the hybrid model that the Switch pioneered.

Streamlined Manufacturing and Development

BARCELONA, NOVEMBER 2022: Nintendo Switch video game console next to the tv at home living room.

At one point in the mid-2010s, Nintendo was manufacturing Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo 2DS, Nintendo 3DS XL, and Nintendo 2DS XL. That’s a lot of different hardware models to manufacture. The Switch has streamlined this process dramatically, giving the company a single set of hardware specs to design for and only a handful of consoles variants to manufacture.

If the next mainline Nintendo console goes back to being a dedicated home system, the company would need to also produce a follow-up to the Nintendo 3DS to hold down the handheld market. Nintendo is unlikely to split its home and handheld manufacturing and development apart after the Switch so cleanly grafted them together. As such, fears that the company will zig when fans expect it to zag are likely unfounded in this case–it simply wouldn’t make good business sense to abandon the highly-popular hybrid model.

The Switch has been so successful that companies like Valve have rolled out their own imitators. The Steam Deck, a portable gaming PC that apes the Switch’s form and functionality, has proven extremely popular among dedicated PC gamers. With other companies jumping at a chance to get a slice of the hybrid console market, it would be foolish for Nintendo to leave its competitors to pick up where they left off while making something more in line with the Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5.