Every few months a report pops up that Apple is working on a Nintendo Switch competitor to break into the world of handheld gaming hardware.
The idea of a Nintendo Switch rival to Apple is understandably making gaming tongues waggle. Apple's vast resources, longstanding reputation for style, and recent developments in system hardware like the Apple M1 chip and Neural Engine could make for an amazing switch alternative.
It's delicious on paper.
In reality, Apple's handheld console is pure rumor and guesswork. So is Apple going to release a Nintendo Switch competitor?
Is Apple Launching a Nintendo Switch Competitor?
Let's see what we know about a potential Apple handheld game console.
Rumors of a Nintendo Switch-style console built by Apple first started circulating in May 2021. A South Korean forum thread claimed that Apple was developing a hybrid game console that would function much like a Nintendo Switch, allowing the user to switch between handheld mode, docking, etc.
The rumor also claimed that Apple's handheld would not use the existing A-series chips or the more powerful M-series chips, but would be built with an entirely new architecture, presumably to provide more power for resource-hungry games. Apple also reportedly negotiated this "with Ubisoft among famous developers". If that's true, top tier games like Far Cry, Assassin's Creed, and Watch Dogs could all jump to an Apple handheld console.
3 reasons Apple's Nintendo Switch competitor could happen
So for now, these are rumors. Apple has never mentioned a handheld game console. In addition, readers of a certain year may remember Apple's latest game console adventure, the Apple Bandai Pippin, which was a massive flop.
However, the Pippin launched 25 years ago against the original PlayStation, the Nintendo 64 and the unfortunate Sega Saturn. It was tough going up against these iconic consoles back then, but this time around Apple has a few more tricks up its sleeve, and there are a few reasons why an Apple handheld game console may not have turned out as you might think.
1. Apple's M1 chip is really good – but its M1X chip gets even better
Apple's M1 chip has already fundamentally changed gaming on a Mac. The increased performance and much higher efficiency of Apple's SoC ensure that gaming via Parallels or CrossOver is better than ever, and Mac gamers are finally enjoying frame rates and an overall experience similar to that of Windows hardware.
While nothing has been confirmed at the time of writing, rumors strongly suggest that a new M1X chip with up to 10 processor cores and possibly 16 or 32 GPU cores may be launched. Either way, the M1X will improve on the already impressive M1 chip, which in turn could point the way for Apple to develop a dedicated Nintendo Switch alternative.
2. Better hardware will attract great developers to Apple
One of the other things that calls into question the rumors of an Apple handheld game console is the lack of developer support. Even with the M1 chip, well-known developers such as Ubisoft or Bethesda are not rushing to develop games for the architecture. The market is just not there right now.
With better hardware and the prospect of a proper gaming platform, AAA developers could reconsider their current stance and begin updating existing AAA titles with Apple silicon compatibility.
Additionally, there's a lot of speculation that Apple is working on a game controller in-house rather than the third-party efforts in previous years or the Siri Remote option (or even the Magic Mouse), which is pretty useless for gaming. A proper game controller would signal to developers that Apple is serious about gaming and encourage more to develop on Apple hardware.
3. Apple seems to be working on big games and Apple Arcade is getting big investments
Well, that positive note is based on a rumor too, but it could be another good omen for Apple's Nintendo Switch competitors. In October 2020, popular leaker Fudge announced that Apple is pouring "big money" into Apple Arcade and that the company is working on titles that can rival Zelda: Breath of the Wild (one of the Switch's biggest hits).
Does Apple have to release a Nintendo Switch competitor?
The idea of Apple entering the handheld game market is no doubt enticing. With the extraordinary hardware the company makes and develops, half the battle is there, right? I mean, an Apple handheld console would probably be way ahead of the Nintendo Switch in terms of hardware.
Another consideration, however, is whether Apple needs to develop and bring a handheld game console to the market at all. Apple's relationship with gaming is not exactly brilliant to say the least, with usually only superficial reflection on what gamers want and need. For example, while the App Store is full of great games, that's not because Apple designed it that way or promoted a gaming-first platform in particular. They just happened to be the first on the street with the best product, and the rest followed suit.
While Apple could undoubtedly attract great developers, it doesn't have a natural base to work on as it doesn't have gaming IPs to properly start up with. When a Nintendo product hits the market, you know you're going to see Mario, Pokémon, Zelda, Wario, Animal Crossing, Super Smash Bros., and so on. There is still a lot of work to be done to get an Apple handheld up to par with the Switch, even if the hardware is top notch.
When will Apple's Nintendo Switch be launched and how much will it cost?
The final consideration for Apple's hypothetical handheld is cost. Could Apple keep costs low enough to compete with the Nintendo Switch, or would it actually compete with the much-touted Steam Deck, slated for launch in late 2021.
If it ended up competing with the Steam Deck, Steam's vastly superior range of games would be an undisputed problem for Apple. However, you'd expect the Apple handheld to come with a better screen than the Steam Deck's 720p offering, and likely with better hardware under the hood too.
The Steam Deck will launch at three price points ($ 399, $ 529, and $ 649). If Apple's competitor Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck were to hit the market in this price range with decent gaming support and the hardware mentioned earlier, it would undoubtedly be an instant hit.
Will Apple Arcade be worth it in 2021?
Apple Arcade has improved since it was launched and there are more games available to play. So is it worth stopping by in 2021?
About the author
(969 published articles)
Gavin is the Junior Editor for Windows and Technology Explained, is a regular contributor to the Really Useful Podcast, and is a regular product reviewer. He has a BA (Hons) Contemporary Writing with Digital Art Practices Looted from the Devon Hills, as well as over a decade of professional writing experience. He enjoys plenty of tea, board games, and soccer.
By Gavin Phillips
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