The Nintendo Switch Doesn't Need YouTube, or Any Other Streaming App

By Tom Pritchard on at

This article was published in its original form back in June, and has been updated to reflect YouTube's recent launch on the Switch.


Yesterday it was announced that Nintendo had brought YouTube to the Nintendo Switch, letting Switch owners tune into videos of other people playing games and illegally-uploaded music. Originally the arrival of YouTube (and Netflix) was expected to happen shortly after E3, after a 'leak' from US retailer Best Buy, but nothing ever happened. But now it has arrived in the eShop. It's not the first streaming app to come to the console (that honour goes to Hulu) but it is a lot more high profile, and more widely available.

It's also completely unnecessary. The Switch does not need to try and validate itself by supporting streaming apps.

It's clear where this decision would come from, had it happened. Ever since the Switch was launched people have been pestering Nintendo about the possibility of watching YouTube, Netflix, or any number of services on the console. Some people were overly critical of the machine because all it was good for was playing games, as if that's a bad thing, and of course the PS4 and Xbox One both have a wide array of entertainment apps that extend their function beyond mere video games. At its core the Switch is a fancy tablet that's been modified specifically for console-tier gaming, but that doesn't mean it has to be turned into just another generic piece of hardware that has the same stuff as all the other generic pieces of hardware.

Think about all the devices you own that already let you browse the internet, stream video, and so on. My house is stuffed with them and I can't keep count, though that is mainly down to that fact my job involves playing with or reviewing gadgets for the purpose of creating content. I may not be the norm, though at a core level I still have a laptop, smartphone, tablet, TV, two games consoles, and a 2DS. All of those devices are very common, and all of them do much of the same thing. Except the games console which also play games.

Why does the Switch need to be added to that list? Particularly since the Switch's battery life has been measured between 2 1/2 and six hours in handheld mode, depending on what you're using it for. That is not a good battery life, and if a smartphone were to come out with that pitiful amount of power people would laugh the company responsible out of business. Obviously it would be great if the Switch had better battery life, and it's led to an extensive market of battery packs and power cases, but people tend to let it slide because it's a fully-fledged games console you can carry around. It may not as powerful as the base level Xbox One or PS4, let alone their 4K counterparts, but you can still carry around a hand-held machine capable of playing an amazing section of games. Given the Switch's success, that's clearly an appealing prospect for a lot of people.

But even beyond battery life, the other devices are much more appealing for general non-gaming things. The Switch has a 6.2-inch display, which is larger than you might find in a dirt cheap phone but roughly the same as the full-screen devices smartphone makers have been pumping out. That also makes it noticeably smaller than the smallest tablets that tend to come paired with displays bigger than seven inches. To top it off, the Switch is much bulkier than these devices, has makes more noise thanks to the built-in fans, and in most cases has worse resolution.

There are plenty of devices that offer a comparable 720p resolution, or less, but if you want some perspective the 480p Amazon Fire 7 Tablet costs £50, and the 720p Fire HD 8 costs £80. A Full HD Fire HD 10 is £150. The Switch starts at £277, with the price increasing based on what bundle or colour scheme you buy.

The Switch does have a built-in stand, which is certainly an advantage over the smart devices of the world, but by all accounts it's not that great. Plus using it means blocking the charging port. With the battery life it has, using the stand is suddenly far less appealing. You could buy a dedicated stand, but that's no different to buying one for your phone or tablet.

The 3DS is sort of in the same boat. It's a device that's far less powerful and advanced than it's counterparts, and mainly designed for playing games, though it does come with a complement of streaming apps that you can use to watch whatever it is you want to watch. It even has a web browser, and the dual-screen design means it can function as its own stand if need be (assuming you're not using the old flat 2DS).

A few years ago we might have been having this same conversation about the 3DS, but these days the handheld seems a bit dated and on its way out. That, combined with the low price and inherent child suitability means it could easily serve as a way to connect a small child to Netflix et al in a way that's suitable and not as disastrous if something goes wrong. Plus they can play Mario Kart on it, which they can't do on a phone or tablet.

What I haven't really touched on is that the Switch is also designed to sit in a dock and project its image to your TV. In those cases it may be appealing to have streaming services, particularly since a docked Switch is capable of Full HD output. But there are still issues. For one the Switch only has two streaming service at the moment, and one of them (Hulu) isn't available globally. Smart TVs and streaming sticks, on the other hand, have nearly all of them.

One or two may not be available, depending on the maker of your hardware, but the fact is they have a lot more to offer than the Switch right now. They're also significantly cheaper, especially if you get the older models, so you don't need an expensive TV or a second mortgage to get connected. If your TV has an HDMI port for a Switch connection, then it can handle a Fire TV, Roku, or something similar.

That's also true of the Xbox One and PS4. While they don't really need all the extra entertainment-focused features, the apps have been available since the days of the Xbox 360 and PS3. A time when streaming devices and smart TVs weren't quite as common, and putting those services on consoles made some sort of sense.

To summarise, the Switch is a great game console. But as a tablet it's seriously outmatched by devices that most people already have. There's no reason to force it to behave like every other device out there just because every other device does it. The Switch does a great job of making console gaming portable, and there's no reason to change that. Maybe people will take advantage of streaming services when they're on offer, but they're completely unnecessary. The games and the gaming are what makes the Switch worth having, and being able to watch YouTube, or some other streaming service, isn't going to change that.