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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Possible Reasons for the Nintendo Switch's Online App

A little while ago, Nintendo announced that the Switch's online functionality would be primarily relegated to a mobile application instead of running entirely on the console itself. Naturally, many eyebrows and pitchforks have been raised in response to this unusual turn of events. With what little information we have, a lot of reasonable questions have come about. Things like "What if I don't have a smartphone?", "Isn't this an unnecessary inconvenience?", and "Why do I have to manage two devices at once?" to name a few.

Right now, with how vague things are, Nintendo’s application seems like an unattractive proposition, but such a controversial and unprecedented decision can't have been made lightly. With this in mind, I believe that trying to look for the advantages of this strange, segmented implementation of online might help us derive the underlying reasons that led to Nintendo seeing sense in it.

Here's my take.

Technical Functionality

A great place to start is assessing the technical side of things: what technical value can be reaped by relegating much of the Switch's online functionality to an external application?

Though we don't know the particulars of the Switch's internals, it isn't a stretch to say that the console is likely built to facilitate software developers getting the most out of its specs as efficiently as possible. Letting an app take up the duty of online matchmaking, voice chat, and parties would probably free up a bit of ram and processing that'd otherwise have been dedicated to ensuring that these secondary features could be accessible at any given time.

I can think of two potential advantages that could come from freeing up these resources: Greater visual quality and an increased battery life.

What if offloading some online functionality to the app let devs do more and gamers play longer?

In either handheld or docked mode, a little probably goes a long way. Minimizing the Switch OS's footprint instead of having it encompass various online functions probably increases the usable resource pool in a way that allows developers to have more happening on screen than would otherwise be possible or, alternatively, a greater deal of performance stability with the same quality and quantity of assets.

There's also the option of avoiding the use of resources in excess, allowing for the Switch to last longer in handheld mode: freeing up ram, easing the processing load, and sending little in the way of wireless data natively could be a great boon for battery life and make online play a bit more viable in handheld mode.

If relevant, these reasons might be pretty substantial in encouraging the decision to host the brunt of online functionality on external hardware.


Other reasons Nintendo would want to pursue a secondary app for online functionality may not be in terms of the Switch but the brand outright.

Let's face it, even with handheld mode, not everyone is going to be bringing their Switch with them wherever they go. While it is more convenient than a full console has ever been, the Switch isn't pocketable, it doesn't have a very long battery life, and, as far as we know, doesn't support cellular data. These things make the console a little more difficult to see as a something that'll always be on hand to a majority of its userbase.

However, even though the Switch may not end up being one of most people's lifestyle devices of preference, a cellphone definitely will be.
Wherever you go, Nintendo could end up being just a tap away
By setting up their principle online infrastructure through mobile devices, Nintendo can keep their ecosystem on the mind outside of play, even if you don't have any of their dedicated hardware with you. Setting up through the phone also offers the opportunity to connect players across platforms, foster growth and expansion of the community overall, and ensure that updates and promotions are easily accessible to everyone who can take advantage of them.

This sort of consideration could be a smart play towards making Nintendo a prominent part of your everyday life, and that would potentially represent massive marketing value to the company moving forward.


Interestingly, the advantages of making Lifestyle considerations aren't just promotional, but also an increase in user convenience. Centralizing the online infrastructure to an application could bring together a wealth of features that players may enjoy taking advantage of when they're away from their console, including things like the eShop or customer service access. This is the sort of thing Nintendo could consider pushing in a quality of life context.

Imagine a central hub for all your needs no matter where you fit in the Nintendo ecosystem.

Nintendo could even take things farther when working to this end and use the app to make our lives easier even when we go back to our dedicated hardware. An example of this could be establishing a base Nintendo ID Framework. With permission, the app could then log you on to any Switch, phone, or future handheld without any hassle for the transfer of accounts and software purchases. They could even do something like allow you to log your Nintendo ID onto a friend's console for multiplayer, carrying over data and rewards, and earning their equivalent of achievements.

The possibilities are quite attractive, but only time will tell if these sorts of things are actually on the table for the app. Here's hoping.

Parental App

This is more of an aside to be honest, but the one thing I can't really piece together is Nintendo's Parental Control app.

Don't get me wrong, I think that it's a great idea: It can help a parent regulate what, when, and how much a child plays. It can even help folks keep to personal schedules, further adding to it's potential utility.

It also does little that I can imagine requiring it to be a separate application as opposed to being a feature-set of the standard online app.

Hmm... The fact that there are two apps is a little harder for me to understand.

You might think it'd help prevent children from editing their parents' schedule settings, but I don't think that makes too much sense as it'd all be accessible on a single device anyway. Maybe things would get a bit too cluttered by putting those feature sets together?

I can't be sure, but we'll probably see why things have been done this way as we learn more about both of these applications in the future.

I hope you enjoyed this piece, and I'll see you soon for whatever comes next.

Take care!

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