There are some very basic questions about the capabilities of the Nintendo Switch that have yet to be answered or even addressed by Nintendo, and the company has already made it clear there’s more to learn about the device outside of the use cases we saw in the brief trailer.
But we do know some things, which have been confirmed by Nintendo. And one of those details it that the dock hardware doesn’t seem to be used for much, outside of providing a few functions such as charging and video output. It’s not a Wii U. The dock isn’t going to be doing much, if any, processing.
The possible lack of an exclusively portable option at launch doesn’t really mean anything; such a version of the console would take away a major feature in exchange for very little savings for either Nintendo or the player, and at the risk of fracturing the user base.
The dock’s ubiquity and likely low production cost has actually led us to question if we could buy more of them, rather than purchase a version of the Nintendo Switch hardware that excludes it. If extra docks are under $100, and they could be much less expensive than that, it could definitely be worth the investment to place one near multiple televisions in your home.
That’s why this report from Let’s Play Video Games is so unsurprising:
While a handheld-only package may come down the line, at launch all bundles of the system will include a dock as to not confuse branding around the name. Nintendo considered internally the idea of selling the handheld portion separately, but had concerns that consumers who purchased the handheld without the dock may still think they could connect it to the TV
So, if you’re interested in picking up a Switch to use primarily or even exclusively as a portable device, you may be out of luck. But there may not be any advantages to buying the console without a dock to begin with.
“The main function of the Nintendo Switch Dock is to provide an output to the TV, as well as charging and providing power to the system,” a Nintendo representative told Polygon, while Let’s Play Video Games reports that the dock is required to connect the system to your television. It’s likely there is no HDMI port on the portable, detached version of the system at all.
The use of the word “main” there does leave some wiggle room if it turns out the dock has some other functions with which we’re not familiar. It’s also possible that the dock will handle some form of scaling to fit the resolution of televisions, or even the active cooling and additional power that would allow the system to tackle more graphically intensive games without the battery giving out at 10 minutes, but we’re deep into speculation now.
While it’s possible that the dock does something outside of image output and charging, any difference in raw power between the portable and console-style uses of the system would mean more complexity in development — although the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio are already moving developers in that direction — and that may be a hard sell for a company that could be trying to gain more third-party support for its console.
The Nintendo Switch is a console that may kill Nintendo’s portable family of hardware while taking over Nintendo’s console line. That two-pronged approach only works if every customer can play the system in both configurations, and there’s likely little to be gained by offering a system without the dock, even if the hardware makes such a configuration technically possible.
So the report is interesting information, but sadly it doesn’t tell us much we didn’t already know or could guess based on the available information. If our understanding of the situation is correct, losing the dock would completely remove the ability to play games on external displays without saving you much money. What’s the point?