A New Nintendo Handheld on the Horizon? Doubtful

Recently, some interesting new patents from Nintendo were released to the public. These patents illustrate multiple touch displays that can track the inputs as a user moves their finger or an object across each of the screens. This has led some folks to wonder if the company might be pursuing a successor to the 3DS—a new dedicated handheld. Honestly, I doubt that’s the case.

Before we get into the future of handhelds, let’s go over what we currently have.The 3DS family of systems has been running since 2011, meaning that it’s been seven years at this point since release. That’s a long time for a system, but support still hasn’t been dropped yet with releases dated as far as 2019. Ever since the Switch launched last year, I’ve seen a growing number of people that want Nintendo to drop support for the aging handheld so that all efforts can be focused on the Switch. That’s an understandable desire, but one must consider why the 3DS is still being promoted at all: sales.

The most recent estimates of the system’s worldwide sales put it in the realm of somewhere around 70+ million. That’s definitely not a number to scoff at. Although, it must be noted that these sales are far less than that of the original DS. It was seven years old when the 3DS released, but it had sold 150+ million units by that time. The 3DS had a much slower start and has also had to deal with the rise of mobile devices. Despite these challenges, it looks like it just might outlive its predecessor.

Nintendo is simply letting the handheld run its course until it stops being a viable business opportunity. Compare it to the Wii U’s situation. It was discontinued after only four years on the market; not to mention it was discontinued before its successor was even launched. At that time, Nintendo had no idea of knowing if the Switch would really be a success, yet it still chose to cut the Wii U loose early. This is in stark contrast to the 3DS. While the Switch has completely replaced the Wii U, it’s acted as a contemporary to the 3DS. The 3DS is now considered to be the entry-point, mainly being targeted at younger gamers, with the Switch being pitched as the choice for teens and adults. That’s not a bad business model and seems to be working out well. But there’s still the question: should there be another handheld after the 3DS? The simple answer is no—because we have the Switch.

As a hybrid system, the Switch fills the role of being both a handheld and home console at the same time. 

The Switch is the world’s first truly hybrid system. It’s this functionality that has caused it to become such a big success in so little time. People are loving having the choice of using the system as either a handheld, home console or both. It’s completely changed the whole dynamic of consoles in general. Handhelds and home consoles have always existed simultaneously, but have done so separately. The reason being that handhelds have never been able to fully match the power of home consoles. So, any multiplatform releases would typically be either very simplified on handhelds, or fundamentally an entirely different game. Generations would have to pass before a handheld would be powerful enough to run a console game. For example, think of the SNES games that came to the GBA. At the time, the current Nintendo console was the Gamecube. With the Switch being a hybrid, however, this problem no longer exists.

There are already quite a handful of current-generation console games on the Switch, like the ever-popular Rocket League, for example. While they don’t look as pretty on the Switch as they do on the other systems, the point is that it’s still the exact same games (minus some oddballs like FIFA 18.) It’s still pretty impressive that the Tegra chipset that powers the Switch is able to run modern titles as well as it does.

A new hypothetical handheld wouldn’t really serve a purpose with the Switch being around. Now that the hybrid concept has been proven to work, it would be strange if Nintendo were to make a new traditional system of any kind, as that would essentially be a step backward. The only way a new handheld would be attractive is if it provided a sleek multifunctional experience. That is if it could do more than just play games: Internet browsing, streaming, pictures, videos, etc. But wait, doesn’t that sound familiar? Yeah, it’s every mobile device out there right now.

A traditional new handheld would have to compete with mobile devices. That doesn’t seem like a wise option in this day-and-age. 

The general consumer today likes to carry as little gadgetry as possible when they’re out-and-about. This is why mobile devices have become ‘all-in-one’ products. A single modern smartphone takes the place of a music player, camera, computer, and technically even a handheld all at once. Although the Switch does have a tablet-like design, it stands out because it’s a hybrid. Even for folks who use it almost exclusively as a handheld, they’re still benefiting from its horsepower that allows it to run console-quality games. Indeed, it should be easy to see why a new dedicated handheld would have such a hard time competing in the modern market.

Really, if Nintendo truly wanted to, all it would have to do is a release a new model of the Switch that’s smaller and can’t be docked. This idea of a ‘Switch Mini’ has been thrown around numerous times, but there’s not exactly any point to it. While it would likely be cheaper than the current Switch, a survey conducted by Nintendo late last year revealed that most Switch owners use the system almost equally between the portable and docked modes.

Thus, the hybrid functionality is clearly appreciated. It’s highly likely that this design is the future of Nintendo systems. So, what about the aforementioned patents? Well, that’s all they are: patents. Companies file them all the time in order to protect their ideas; that doesn’t mean that an actual product will be built. So for the time being, the only new Nintendo hardware we can really expect to see is an upgraded Switch.

What’s far more likely to happen is an upgraded Switch down the line. 

A.K Rahming
Having been introduced to video games at the age of 3 via a Nintendo 64, A.K has grown up in the culture. A fan of simulators and racers, with a soft spot for Nintendo! But, he has a great respect for the entire video game world and enjoys watching it all expand as a whole.