KYOTO (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Nintendo announced a new Switch gaming device for release Oct 8, a long-awaited US$350 (S$472) gadget that will succeed its popular console and likely catalyse a wave of new software and holiday season sales.
The new device marks the first hardware upgrade to the console originally released in 2017 for US$299.
It features a vibrant 7-inch OLED screen, a wide adjustable stand, a dock with a wired LAN port, 64 gigabytes of internal storage and enhanced audio, according to a statement from the company Tuesday (July 6).
Industry observers expressed surprise that the Kyoto-based games maker had not announced a more radical upgrade to the device in its fifth year on the market.
"It's a great upgrade for handheld gamers, but the general expectation was for the new device to be significantly more powerful," said Dr Serkan Toto, founder of the Kantan Games consultancy.
Anticipation among gamers was driven by media reports that Nintendo was about to launch a Switch with an upgraded central processor unit and 4K output when connected to a TV - neither of which are present in the new device.
"I expect a good chunk of existing flagship owners to upgrade to the OLED version even without the additional graphical power," said Mr Piers Harding-Rolls, head of games research at Ampere Analysis.
Nintendo broke with convention when it introduced the Switch, a hybrid console capable of connecting to a TV at home as well as being used as an independent mobile device. Sales of the machine have been consistently strong. The Covid-19 pandemic combined with runaway hit Animal Crossing: New Horizons supercharged demand throughout 2020.
Nintendo introduced a mobile-only Switch Lite in late 2019 as a more affordable US$199 option. Cumulatively, the Switch family has sold 85 million units worldwide as of March 31.
Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa said in May that the Switch's sales momentum is unprecedented in the company's 131-year history. He signalled confidence that the pace could be maintained or even increased as the platform is only at the midpoint of its planned lifecycle.
Nintendo's share price is near its all-time high as the company continues to see greater demand for its devices than it is able to immediately satisfy. Anticipation is also high around the slate of new games set to accompany the new model's release.
However, the new model lacks the ability to display games at 4K resolution, leaving it behind rival consoles from Microsoft and Sony. Nintendo had been exploring a 4K-capable version of the Switch, Bloomberg reported in March.
The first challenge for Nintendo ahead of the new console's debut will be to ensure it has adequate inventory.
Global semiconductor shortages have frustrated production plans across various industries, affecting everything from cars to TVs and consoles to personal electronics like headphones.
Sony's PlayStation 5 has been extremely scarce since its launch in November, leading to game sales for the new platform also struggling, according to data from market trackers such as Japan's Famitsu.
"A lesson we learned from the PlayStation 5's launch is that making sure to have enough inventories is really the only step that any company can take to keep scalpers at bay and make gamers happy and willing to spend a lot on the platform," Ace Research Institute analyst Hideki Yasuda said.