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The Nintendo Switch is missing a golden tablet opportunity

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Just put Netflix and a web browser on it

Last night, we learned that Nintendo isn’t planning on shipping the Nintendo Switch with a web browser, “at least at launch.” That’s on top of the news that at launch, it won’t have any video streaming apps like Netflix, Amazon video, or Hulu. I suspect that hoping for a Kindle app would be a pipe dream. At least at first — and probably for the foreseeable future — the Switch will be for one thing: playing games.

Here’s the thing, though: imagine you’re somebody who wants to spend around $300 on a tablet — what you’d want it for is precisely the list of things I just enumerated: watching video, playing games, reading books, and doing some light web browsing. It’s the sort of use case that has made a market for Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets.

So it’s a shame that Nintendo isn’t launching with those extra features — because if it did, I can almost guarantee you it would replace the space in my travel bag previously taken up by my iPad. I don’t use the iPad for productivity anyway — I just use my laptop. And for more casual users who aren’t interested in trying to make a tablet into a productivity device, it would have a decent shot at being their next purchase in lieu of an Android tablet from Amazon, or possibly even an iPad.

If you’re Nintendo, the urge to focus on gaming makes sense. It’s not as though the Switch is a powerhouse gaming device in the first place, so anything that takes the message away from “this thing will have great games” is probably not the right move. There’s already a deep well of mistrust after the Wii U debacle among gamers and people who are casual gamers, so it’s ostensibly smart to not distract from the gaming message.

And yet Nintendo wants to re-create the success it had with the original Wii: come in at a relatively low price point with some innovative new gaming features that expand the gaming market beyond hardcore gamers. The Wii was wildly successful at that, and in a mobile context you need something more than video games to draw in that larger crowd. The ability to do just a few basic entertainment and web things could go a long way toward doing that.

We still don’t know what operating system the Switch will use — whether it’s some version of Android (which would make sense given the processor) or something custom from Nintendo. Whatever it is, getting Netflix on it can’t be that difficult. But if it does end up becoming some sort of Android variant, the app opportunities could be interesting.

There are lots of possibilities here. Imagine a mobile-only SKU of the Switch that costs $50 or $100 less than the original $299 asking price. It could go head-to-head with Amazon’s flagship Fire HD 10, but with several aces up Nintendo’s sleeve named Mario, Link, and Pikachu.

I’m sure that Nintendo fans will point out that all of the missing features here are only missing “at launch,” and that Nintendo will surely add them down the line. But whether, when, and how those features get added could make a big difference. I hope that Nintendo is thinking seriously about these opportunities and not planning on making these features mere software checkboxes.

Nintendo is riding a hype wave bigger than anything it’s had since the Wii, but waves crash. A slightly disappointing list of launch titles isn’t likely to attract the broad market Nintendo wants. And if there are delays (there are often delays with Nintendo) of key titles like Mario and Splatoon, it could dampen the enthusiasm even among core fans.

Then again, maybe dampening enthusiasm in the early months isn’t the worst idea in the world. Nintendo has recently built up an abysmal and justified reputation for not being able to keep even basic hardware in stock and available for purchase. If you’re Nintendo, seeing that the Switch is already sold out for preorder at every conceivable retailer is good news.

But despite its recent wins in mobile, Nintendo could stand to do a better job of stacking wins on top of wins. And a big win would be convincing people who might not otherwise consider buying a Switch to pick one up so they can use it as their couch or travel gadget. It doesn’t have to take on the iPad to succeed at that, it just needs a few basic things. The things that most people think of when they think of tablets: video, web browsing, and reading.

The Nintendo Switch is basically a tablet that can play Nintendo games. Nintendo should do the obvious thing: make it a basic tablet.


Nintendo Switch First Look