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User Experience

The good enough design of the Nintendo Switch

April 12, 2017

With their new Switch video game console, Nintendo has demonstrated once again why they are one of the most innovative companies in consumer electronics.

The console’s hybrid hardware offers a multitude of gaming experiences. The Switch also serves as an illustration of the compromises that are often associated with modular systems design.

I was lucky enough to buy a Nintendo Switch during the midnight product launch event on March 3 before it quickly sold out at retailers everywhere. After using the Switch for the past few weeks, reading various media reviews, and talking to some fellow enthusiasts, the hype surrounding the product is well-founded. The Switch is loads of fun, especially if you’re a fan of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda action-adventure game series, the latest installment of which launched at the same time as the new system. Playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Switch alone has been enough for some to justify the console’s $300 price tag.

Zelda aside, the differentiating feature of the Nintendo Switch is that its hardware can be configured into three distinct playing modes. In handheld mode, the Switch is essentially a small tablet with wireless controllers, called Joy-Con, attached to either side of a 6.2-inch LCD touchscreen. You can detach the Joy-Con and use the console’s integrated kickstand to prop up the display for single or multiplayer gaming in tabletop mode. I highly recommend the couch co-op puzzle game Snipperclips for this mode. At home, the Switch can be docked for big screen gameplay on your TV. In this mode, the Joy-Con can either be used separately or combined using a more traditional gaming controller grip that is included with the system.

The modularity needed for the Switch to support multiple hardware configurations reveals some of the weaker aspects of the system’s design. For example, some people have complained about scratching the console’s screen when placing it into the dock. Others argue that the kickstand required for tabletop mode feels flimsy and detaches with little force. Thankfully, it can also be snapped back into place just as easily. I find that the Joy-Con works better when attached to the console in handheld mode than when detached and used individually for multiplayer gaming, a use which exposes the slightly cramped and non-uniform button placement of the left and right controllers.

With product development, your customers ultimately decide what is good enough.

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