We’ve seen this happening for quite a few generations now, but the trend has become more pronounced this time round (to my mind at least). I am of course talking about hardware revisions and updates, about repackaging a console in a new (usually smaller) form and making it quieter or cooler.
Of course, the 3DS XL is out here in less than a week, and, if you didn’t know, the PS3 looks set to go through its second redesign. Although the renders that have been created of the new beastie (based on a set of supposedly leaked photos) do make it look quite cool, I wonder if hardware revisions serve a real purpose.[drop]Whilst Sony have got a few hardware revisions in recent years, they really have nothing on Nintendo when it comes to updating their consoles.
Just look at the Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Light, or the DS, DS Lite, DSi and DSi XL, as well as the aforementioned XL update to the 3DS.
Nintendo’s strategy in that regard actually bothers me a bit, largely because the revisions can make older versions of the same console seem obsolete.
To some extent the DSi actually did make the older console unusable, by adding the camera, but even going from the DS to the DS Lite smarted a little bit.
Although it’s brought up less, it’s worth noting that the PSP had its fair share of revisions during its existence. Perhaps the fact that Sony made less of a fuss with the release of each revision than Nintendo did with the change from DS to DS Lite and so on is why they, seemingly, catch less flack for putting out updated version of the same console, but who knows?
These hardware revisions may annoy, or even enrage, some customers, and sometimes you can see why. Compare it to the phone market, another area where hardware revisions and new versions come out at a fairly rapid pace, in some cases more than once a year.
The reason that phone manufacturers don’t seem to attract as much ire for their practices is that they, generally, offer you a substantial hardware update when they bring out a new phone. The iPhone 4 and 4S may share a near identical body, but what’s under the hood is pretty different in terms of power.[drop2]The same can’t be said for console hardware revisions, at least not in a lot of cases. When the 360 update was released it didn’t update the hardware in any meaningful way, it was just a smaller box that was a bit quieter.
The same can be said of the various slimmed down versions of the different iterations of PlayStation, and of some of the DS revisions.
They may update the battery, change the screen size, or make it a bit less power hungry but it’s fundamentally the same machine under all of that.
That’s what, at least to me, causes friction amongst some people when a console manufacturer announces a hardware revision.
Of course we can’t expect them to have a way to make their altered designs possible when the console’s first announced, not with the rapid pace of technology, but maybe people would prefer it if they were working on bringing out something genuinely new, rather than modifying and repackaging what they already have.
That may seem against the whole console ethos, a stable platform that lasts long enough for developers to have confidence in, but it might serve consumers better at some level. You also have to look at the dates of the home console updates.
The 360S was released four and a half years after the original Xbox 360. That may not seem like a long time, but consider the fact that the Xbox was only on sale for four. The PS3 didn’t make it as long, a little under three years to be exact, but I do wonder if they’d held out a little longer would they have been able to pour the same resources into bring the PS4’s release forwards.
That’s the ultimate question really, would you rather have a hardware revision or a new console? It’s a tricky question to answer, and one that I suspect will vary from person to person, but I’ve still got an original model Xbox 360 (although it has gone back to Microsoft once for the RRoD) and PS3, and they work perfectly fine.
I’d much rather have the next generation of consoles than update what I already have.