Nintendo’s popular Switch and Switch Lite aren’t the most powerful consoles on the market today, but their smart and simple user experience design offers some clear improvements over Microsoft and Sony’s hardware. With the PS5 and Xbox Series X set to launch later this year, here are three things I’m hoping Nintendo’s rivals will steal from the Switch.
User Interface Speed
Both the PS4 and the Xbox One have much faster processors than the mobile hardware inside the Nintendo Switch…yet their cumbersome UI’s can often slow to a crawl. The “bigger” consoles put too many clicks between gamers and the settings they want to change or the games they want to play.
In stark contrast, the Switch’s interface is built for speed. It’s zippy and responsive, and isn’t filled with extra animations or slowly-opening panels. You can hop in and out of games faster than on any other console. You can close a game and be looking at the featured sale in the store in just a few seconds. You can change all of your settings in a simply laid-out menu and then never worry about them again. And you can quickly connect and disconnect whatever combination of controllers you’d like to use.
The secret comes from both form and optimization. The Switch presents a basic row of games, and some shortcut icons that go to the most commonly-used settings…and that’s it. It all runs quick in spite of the older mobile processor inside the machine, a testament to Nintendo’s internal coding team. In fact, one of the system’s developers tweeted that the home menu requires just 200k of memory resources. This is an infinitesimal memory footprint compared to the operating systems on the other machines.
Sony’s PS4 UI is similar in basic design to Nintendo’s, but it’s overburdened with additional buttons from years of over-iteration. The settings menu is a nightmare list of random functions that I’ve never memorized the order of. Microsoft’s UI is similarly burdened with tiles, options, and toggles.
Both competing systems also offer plenty of advertising space for marketing information that’s highly unnecessary for game play. Nintendo smartly keeps their ads contained in a separate “news” app that gamers never have to open, and although they do show the top three items from that app on the lock screen of the device, this unobtrusive marketing effort is much more friendly and engaging. I sometimes find myself clicking on Nintendo’s news roundups whereas I always ignore the marketing panels on the other machines.
With the new systems coming this fall built around SSD’s and faster storage pipelines, their user interfaces will probably gain some speed just through sheer brute strength. But I also hope they learn something from Nintendo’s carefully-designed focus on games, and the speed of their user experience.
System Software Updates
Nintendo’s Switch software updates install in a few seconds. They download seamlessly in the background when your system is off, and wait for your permission to install. If you don’t want to install them right away, you can delay them, and quickly dive in and save any game you have currently suspended. You can do the same thing with game patches.
This simple system offers all the flexibility that gamers need for updates, and the quick install time for new OS revisions combined with the Switch’s fast reboot means I’m gaming again in under a half a minute, and without any stress. Although the Xbox One and the PS4 theoretically offer “automatic” updates, woe be unto those who either turn their console on at the “wrong” time or have something go wrong with the automatic process.
System updates are a slow and painful process on Microsoft and Sony’s machines, requiring multiple reboots and painfully slow rewriting of secret system partitions that can brick consoles on very rare occasions.
The Switch is the fastest-updating console I’ve ever owned. Although its software downloading system is cumbersome in other ways (I can’t choose the order that games download in if I’m installing multiple items), the system update process is so smooth and simple that it truly feels like it fell out of the future. Hopefully the automatic update process is smooth like this on future machines, or at least offers me the ability to save my game without stripping away all of my network access.
Simple Rewards Program
Shortly after the launch of the Switch, Nintendo totally overhauled their loyalty rewards system. While some folks miss the real-world items one used to be able to earn, I love the new simple system. Every digital purchase returns gold coins back into your Nintendo account, and you can then use those gold coins as a discount against future purchases with a simple click. You can also earn gold coins from physical games, though the earnings potential is smaller and more restricted.
It’s easy, quick, automatic, and encourages you to spend more in their digital store. You’ll earn about three dollars back on every full-priced game download, which isn’t too shabby at all.
Microsoft has a robust rewards system that’s integrated with their search engine Bing, but it’s become a nightmarish convoluted system over the years. You earn points for internet searches on your PC, on your phone, and on your console. You can perform daily tasks on both Xbox and PC to earn extra points. You can activate punch cards that incentivize you to purchase certain items. You get some amount of points back for each Xbox game purchase, and that scales with time and with spend level. You also now earn points for playing Game Pass games.
Once you’ve jumped through the many hoops and earned points, you can then redeem them in a big store where nothing has an even rate of exchange. It’s a little obfuscated in the way digital purchases were back on the Xbox 360.
While the multi-layered gamification of the Microsoft rewards system can sometimes be fun, it’s also an ungainly thing that requires extreme amounts of dedication to get the most out of. The overall level of potential value is high but you’ll have to work for it. It’s at the total opposite end of the spectrum from Nintendo’s simple system. I’ve found that I tend to better stick with loyalty rewards I don’t have to think about so much, and while I sometimes get way into Microsoft’s system, other times I leave it sitting untouched for weeks at a time.
Sony also has a rewards system for the PS4… but it’s a half-broken mess built on top of their old credit card rewards program. It has a dedicated mobile app, but half the challenges no longer work and they never replaced its Facebook integration after severing ties with that social network across all of their products. It also takes several days for rewards to deposit into your account, giving it no sense of immediate gratification.
The one good thing about Sony Rewards is that you can make up the points balance for a reward tier with cash if you’re a little short, at the cheap price of a penny per point. This will eat into your discounts, but at least it’s something.
Nintendo’s simple cash back rewards system works immediately and makes me that much more likely to support their digital storefront. As more and more game purchases go digital in the next generation, a simple loyalty program is an important thing for platforms to have. No one will want to open their shiny new Xbox Series X and have to click past a bunch of marketing tiles to play a game, even if it means earning Bing rewards.
Gamers just want to quickly play games. Nintendo understands that better than anyone, and hopefully the other companies are about to catch up.