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Next big Switch is coming to gaming

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The first major new gaming console brand in many years arrives in South Africa next week. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK previews the Nintendo Switch.

Computer games could comfortably be called the new music. The industry has long surpassed music sales, and live gaming tournaments have spawned a sub-industry all of its own, called eSports, which pulls in tens of millions of dollars in prize money globally.

Little wonder, then, that such intense competition exists between the world’s two leading console platforms, Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox. Every year sees a new version, a new level of graphic excellence, and fans clamouring for new versions of powerful gaming titles.

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This is the context in which Nintendo, which practically invented the concept, is making its return to the console wars. The now-primitive Game Boy was the first handheld console to go truly mass market in the late 1980s, and resurrected the ailing video game industry. It set the scene for Nintendo to dominate the market for a decade before the arrival of the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox at the turn of the century pushed it down the rankings.

The massive success of the Wii – it sold more than 100-million units from 2006 to 2012 – brought Nintendo back into contention. However, its successor, the handheld Wii U, is today regarded as a flop. Among other, it was brought down by too much complexity and too little versatility.

The outrageous if brief popularity of Pokemon Go, the augmented reality game for smartphones, reminded the world that Nintendo was still around. The company pulled off a masterstroke by getting Apple to showcase the Mario Super Run mobile game during the iPhone 7 launch in September, and set the stage for the unveiling of its new console.

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The Nintendo Switch is the first major new gaming console brand in many years, and has seen levels of enthusiasm among the game buying public that is normally associated with the hottest new smartphones.

It arrives in South Africa on 3 March, and is already expected to walk off the shelves. The only holdback is likely to be the initial recommended retail price of R5 999, but that is expected to come down significantly thanks to exchange rate improvements and retailer discounts.

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The beauty of the Switch is that it is several gaming devices in one. At first sight, it is merely a handheld console, albeit a few generations advanced over the Wii U: it houses a 6.2-inch, multi-touch capacitive touch screen and offers a display resolution of 1280 x 720. The console can also be connected to a TV, underlining its competition to the PlayStation and Xbox.

The controllers on either side of the screen can also be removed, to become two separate devices that allow two players to challenge each other on the same system. Called Joy-Con, the devices can be deployed in single- or two-controller mode, and can be used vertically or sideways, with motion controls or button.

This is a level of versatility never seen before in gaming devices.

The sophistication of these seemingly humble controllers becomes apparent in games that use both motion control and force feedback – which Nintendo calls HD rumble, a vibration feature built into each JoyCon.

Up to eight controllers can be used with one Switch system, allowing for games like Splatoon – first made popular on the Wii U in 2015 – to enter the eSports arena.

Parental Controls allow parents to use a smart device app to set time limits – both in duration and time of day – as well as parameters for what games can be played by which kids. Even posting screenshots to social media – nowadays a standard feature of gameplay – can be  controlled by parents.

Possibly the most significant innovation of the Switch is in the gaming experience itself, and is heavily driven by the extent to which games take advantage of the technology built into the Joy-Con. This is exemplified by Snipperclips, a deceptively simple game that demands close collaboration between two players, each using a Joy-Con. It turns out to be engrossing, fun and even a bonding experience. One cannot say that of many computer games!

Many people buying the Switch, however, will be coming back for Legend of Zelda, a long-time Nintendo favourite that has sold more than 75-million games in the last two decades. The new edition, Breath of the Wild, drew the longest lines during Switch demos in Johannesburg last weekend.

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It is clear that it will ensure the continued longevity of that specific franchise, as well as underpin the success of the Switch itself. Microsoft and Sony might not take their eyes off their own controllers for now, but they are no longer the only games in town.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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