It is no small secret that the Wii U has not been the critical success the Wii was, nor has it matched the sheer numbers of sales that the Xbox One and Playstation 4 have reached in its lifetime on the market. So, it is unsurprising that Nintendo has already started work on their next console. What will be surprising however, is the development path they take, and how they will integrate their hardware into the ever-changing tech landscape.
As in the past, Nintendo begins working on their next console as soon as they finish one, giving them plenty of time to truly plan out what they envision the future to be. Even back in 2012, we heard mumbling on what’s coming next. Although there is some speculation to the particulars of the new devices, one thing is for certain: Integration between the handheld and console will be key.
Nintendo wants these new systems to be close “brothers” in their “family of devices.” Nintendo’s current systems certainly share some forms of communication, but it is fragmented across games and services; a less than ideal situation in today’s ever-connected world. Plus, due to the fundamental technological differences between the consoles, such as system strength or power sources, games must be built uniquely for each system, taking time and resources. Nintendo has stated that they are looking quite closely at the hardware and software combinations of the current mobile space. iOS and Android have no problem having games being compatible across a bevy of devices, something Nintendo is quite keen on replicating. This lead to Nintendo restructuring its hardware design teams, combining the previously separate handheld and console divisions. All of these changes begs the question: Why have a family of devices when you can have just one?
I mean, think about it. You take your handheld with you anywhere you go, playing fully-fledged titles on your commute. Then when you get home, you simply plug in the device in a dock and suddenly, your handheld is a fully operational console. You play the same games with the same data, just upscaled and gorgeous looking. No need to fuss with save transfers, all your friend’s lists are unified and your games are with you everywhere you go. You could even use your handheld to communicate with friend’s console, taking all your info with you and using your handheld as a controller.
While this “one device to rule them all” is certainly appealing, it is unlikely to come to fruition. Nintendo’s mantra has always been letting the games and more importantly, the fun, take center stage while having the technology be supplementary to that experience. One mobile-ready, console-quality device would be expensive, not to mention a loss of hardware revenue for the company, something Nintendo has always relied upon in sales. Plus, we are all expecting their next hardware to be one device, which goes against another key Nintendo philosophy, give the consumer something they don’t know they want.
There are however, somethings we definitely do want, namely more power. Sheer system strength has never been Nintendo’s forte. Many of their first party games, however great, feel like they like they are being held back. Nintendo will follow suite and bring to the market a device that will rival the power of its competitors. Definitely something using a x86 architecture, most likely an upgraded SoC (System on Chip) manufactured by AMD. Nintendo has employed AMD processors for its consoles since the Gamecube and it will definitely use them going forth. What is interesting is that the chip is highly conventional in technological terms. Nintendo, keeping in practice with its technology second approach, has always used custom designed CPUs and GPUs based on much older hardware. Using a new, single chip would not only be a huge leap in design philosophy, but huge performance enhancements as well. Since these chips are also much easier to develop for, it will be much easier to port and share game libraries across platforms, as well as grab the attention of third party developers, which Nintendo so desperately needs. But even with all this power, there may even be a better option.
Like I said earlier, Nintendo is very interested in how mobile operating systems and hardware handle gaming. One game can be used over multiple devices, which is exactly what Nintendo wants to do. Companies like Apple have been using smaller, more mobile ARM processors to power their iPhones and iPads, which have reach a high fidelity of graphics prowess themselves. This raw power, tied with scalability and easy communication fits the bill exactly. Sure, the console may not be nearly as powerful as the competitors but Nintendo’s developers know how to push a system to its max and tying that power to a handheld is the possibly the one-two punch they need. The technology should be cheap, it should be powerful enough, and will be easy to have devices talk amongst each other. It’s almost too obvious.
It is absolutely certain that Nintendo will continue making hardware to match their software. Sure their designs in the past can be frustrating, but this new strategy will certainly benefit Nintendo and its team of developers, the possible hardware partners, and most importantly, the gamers.