With its decision not to include a web browser with the Switch (at least initially), Nintendo continues to demonstrate that it has no idea how the Internet works.
On the surface, this decision doesn’t seem like a bad one. Both the 3DS and the Wii U had web browsers that were mostly ignored by players, so why make something that nobody uses? People are accustomed to getting their Web fix through their smartphone, tablet, computer, etc., so removing that functionality (and the support structure and maintenance headaches that come along with it) appears to be make good business sense.
The problem is that making this move completely undercuts the Switch’s main selling point of playing your favorite games anywhere you want. If you can’t view webpages on the Switch, then you’re gonna have a bad time trying to play games requiring online functionality.
The underlying issue is the prevalence of captive portals used by companies (such as hotels or airports) to govern who can access their wireless networks. Captive portals redirect/block web traffic from a device until that device is granted authorization to access the network. Gaining that access requires the user to visit a specific page (it’s usually the one their web traffic is redirected to), sign in using a provided set of credentials, and agree not to use their newly-acquired network access to destroy the universe. The process is simple and straightforward…unless you don’t have a web browser to display the sign-in page.
By not including a web browser with the Switch, Nintendo is unnecessarily restricting their customers’ ability to play their games in public places. This is especially problematic for long-distance travelers, as hotels and airports are the two places I encounter captive portals most often. Toss this issue on top of concerns about getting through TSA checkpoints, and players will start wondering “Why am I carrying this thing around when I can’t use it when and where I want?”
Of course, there are some important caveats to note:
- Games that don’t make heavy use of online features won’t be affected by this problem. Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey should still be playable regardless of Wi-Fi access. On the flip side, games in which online multiplayer features are a huge draw, such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2, will bear the brunt of this decision. (In particular, once you beat the single-player campaign, Splatoon 2 is pretty much useless without a network connection.)
- Multiplayer via local wireless (depending on how it’s implemented) may still be usable without access to the wider Internet.
Still, this issue is one that could be easily sidestepped by just adding in a web browser to the Switch. It doesn’t have to be good or have a lot of features; it just needs to work well enough to let you load a webpage and sign your life away to a hotel/airport/etc. Without it, however, my dream of running over foes with my Splat Roller while pretending to pay attention to a speaker at a conference in a random hotel in the middle of Illinois will never become a reality.
The silver lining is that Nintendo hasn’t completely shut the door on a Switch web browser, and has only said that it won’t be there on day one. For all our sakes, I hope Nintendo realizes their blunder and adds this feature sooner rather than later.