Apple could learn a thing or two from Nintendo's surprise announcement

Apple and Nintendo are two of the most innovative companies in the world. And even though the former company is the most valuable brand in the world, and exponentially more successful than Nintendo, there’s still much it could learn from the Japanese gaming company.

Take Thursday’s surprise announcement of Nintendo’s new console, “Switch.” We’d known Nintendo would unveil its new console in 2016 before launching it next March, but we had no idea when to expect the announcement. There were no press invitations, no hints from the company’s social media accounts. No one knew when to expect Nintendo’s bombshell.

And then, suddenly, on Wednesday night, it dropped, via Nintendo’s Twitter account:

People were stunned. After years of hype, it was finally happening — and in such a short time frame, too. In contrast, Apple announces its product unveilings roughly a week ahead of time, but Nintendo wasn’t going to wait a week to unveil this thing — not even a day. Just a brief 12 hours or so.

And this event wouldn’t be an Apple-type gala, where the company would rent out a grand auditorium and invite executives and members of the press to an elaborate two-hour event, complete with musical guests.


Nintendo opted to release a 3-minute video on YouTube, at 10 a.m. on Thursday morning.

That’s it.

The overall timing was a bit suspect. Was Nintendo unaware that Wednesday night was the third and final presidential debate of one of the most bizarre election cycles in modern U.S. history? Would people get the word in time in order to tune in?

Well, as of Friday morning, it looks like Nintendo made a smart choice: In less than 24 hours online, Nintendo’s Switch unveiling has racked up over 10 million views on YouTube, and an extremely positive response from viewers (96.2% gave a thumbs-up, while 3.8% weren’t sold on the video).

As a longtime Nintendo fan who’s been less enchanted with the company’s hardware products in recent years, I thoroughly enjoyed Nintendo’s video, and I look forward to learning more about the Switch — and eventually buying one next March.

I have many thoughts about the console itself, but above all else, I was most impressed with Nintendo’s strategy for this unveiling. Sure, we had an idea of now the Nintendo Switch was going to work, but there was still so much we didn’t know — the name, for one (we only had the “NX” codename to work with), the looks of the console, as well as some of the playstyle mechanics (which my colleague Alex Perry describes well here).

And even after watching Nintendo’s video, there’s still so much I want to know: the full cost of the system, the price of any individual parts and accessories, the Switch’s battery life. But the important thing is that I’m intrigued; the video was effective because I want to know more.

Apple is also very good at generating interest. But its tried-and-true formula for unveiling a product — inviting the press ahead of time to a big event in California, where it takes two hours to show off new stuff and describe new features — is getting a bit stale.

I get the argument for Apple keeping things the way it is. Its product unveilings, however formulaic, are extremely effective at educating the public about its new products. But it’s difficult to do that when people and other companies are leaking your products ahead of those unveilings. Even Apple’s own Twitter account outed the iPhone 7 before Phil Schiller could formally introduce it in San Francisco.

Apple may never be able to stop the leaking — but it could still regain the element of surprise, which has long been a company staple since the Steve Jobs era.

If Apple borrowed Nintendo’s recent strategy, and released brief teaser videos days or even weeks before its big events, it could make its annual product cycles much more exciting.

Apple doesn’t need to reveal the full product, like Nintendo did with the Switch. But perhaps it could release a teaser video, like this 30-second ad for the iPhone 7, which doesn’t give too much away.

For example, most people by now expect Apple to release new iPhones every September. It might throw people off, however, to see a video like the one above in August or even July. It would add to the mystique.

Again, it’s hard to argue that mystique is a good enough reason to out a new product as big as the iPhone before it’s *officially* unveiled and detailed by a company executive. But I can’t help but feel like Nintendo got something right about its Switch reveal, both in the delivery of the message itself (a snappy, 3-minute ad showing off what it can do) and the overall timing (waiting less than a day before news of the announcement and the announcement itself). There’s no way Nintendo Switch sales could ever be compared to iPhone sales, but I do believe Nintendo’s strategy will pay off in some way, shape, or form for the company — and I think it could work for Apple, too. They are, after all, great at making videos.

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