I was sitting with some friends when another one of our friends came in and excitedly started telling us about the latest Nintendo console. It was portable, took cartridges, had a touch screen in the centre that you could also interact with the games and best of all, you could wirelessly network with players nearby. You might think this was a year or so ago with the Nintendo switch, but it was actually more like 10 years ago when I was at university and the device was the nintendo DS.
Sure, some of the features I mentioned might have been exaggerated from their reality, but if you compare the original DS and the new switch, there is a lot in common between the devices. In fact now Nintendo’s highest end portable console, is also it’s highest end desktop console. It’s a great example of a toaster fridge, where they managed to combine two distinct lines of products and create a great experience for both.
Why the switch matters to Apple fans ?
Tim Cook famously said that people don’t want a toaster fridge, two devices which are good on their own, but bad together (like combining a toaster and a fridge). This is from the company that made the iPhone which combined a phone, camera, music player and internet communicator into one device (are you getting it yet?) And yet he referred to slapping a poor touch interface onto a desktop computer. Or a terrible desktop experience onto a portable device (basically critiquing Microsoft’s tablet strategy back in windows 7 and windows 8.)
On a personal notes, before I bought my iPad Pro I really debated some of the Microsoft “toaster fridges” like the surface. They certainly seemed better laptops than the iPad Pro, but much worse tablets. For me as a teacher, the idea of walking around with what is basically a laptop was a terrible idea.
However, there are rumors of iOS and macOS heading for a convergence and both devices are clearly influencing each other’s new features such as the dock in iOS 11 and Touch ID in the new MacBook Pros…so can Apple learn something from Nintendo on how to make a good toaster fridge? I believe they can.
But the switch isn’t perfect
I finally grabbed a switch last week and I’ve been impressed by it but I can attest that it isn’t perfect. The joy-con controllers are a bit of a compromise however you use them. On the device it feels like a long and wide device. In the joy-con holder it isn’t a great controller in comparison to something like the PS4 or Xbox controllers. So instead you may want the pro-controller, but then it isn’t really that portable. Plus, the docked device isn’t as powerful as the rival companies high end consoles. So there are “toast fridge” compromises in the switch, and yet the switch has won a tone of praise for it’s unique and daring approach.
Perhaps it is because the device is “good enough” even with these compromises. So the portable device isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough. Likewise the procontroller and the docked device isn’t as powerful as the latest Xbox, but it’s powerful enough. So how can apple make a good toaster fridge?
4 Lessons Apple can take from Nintendos strategy
1. Take your time
Nintendo took their time to make this change. If you look at the nintendo DS, it first came out 10 years ago. In the mean time Nintendo had another major console and several smaller portable devices. They didn’t rush the change.
2. Focus on a long term vision
The DS show strong hints of the switches design and it was refined. Likewise the Wii U’s controller also shows a preview of the switch in many ways, as do the Wii’s controllers for the joy-cons. All these elements fit within that bigger vision.
3. Keep the best parts and lose the worse
Likewise, all these great elements from previous consoles stuck around, but they dropped the poor elements.
4. Take the next natural step
Nintendo didn’t jump from the Wii to the switch, it took a transition step. Now admittedly, the Wii U wasn’t the best device for a few reasons, but it wasn’t terrible. My brother owned one and enjoyed it, it just didn’t seem to give people enough of a reason to upgrade. Likewise the gameboy advance became the DS which then became the 3DS and so on.
What’s next for Apple
So where does Apple go next? Well, in many ways you can see hints that Apple has been implementing this strategy. The MacBook is the most iOS like device apple has ever sold (even including the single port and tiny size). Likewise, and iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard and iOS 11 is the most Mac like iOS device ever (including a dock).
The next step might be to make an iOS device with a stuck in keyboard