Exclusive: Qualcomm is planning an Android-powered Nintendo Switch knockoff

Qualcomm plans its first foray into the consumer electronics market in years — with a device that bears a strong resemblance to Nintendo’s wildly popular Switch game console. According to a source familiar with the company’s strategy, the Android-powered game console will attempt to showcase the company’s Snapdragon chipsets in a less traditional form factor.

The device, which we were able to view non-final images of but cannot share, is immediately familiar to anyone who owns a Switch. Detachable “joycon” style controllers are on the left and right sides of the core console, which resembles a thicker, bulkier smartphone. There’s a good reason for that: the company believes that the added thermal headroom a thicker design affords will make its processor run faster and significantly more efficiently than a modern ultra-thin smartphone. Qualcomm is also using that space to pack in a large 6000mAh battery that will be equipped with its Quick Charge technology. According to our source, Qualcomm is using a premium supplier in the controller space to design and manufacture the gamepads, though we were unable to verify the name of that supplier. The exact dimensions of the console and its display also weren’t made available to us.

Like the Switch, Qualcomm’s portable will support display-out capabilities to play on an external TV or monitor, though if it was unclear if that meant a dedicated port like mini HDMI or if the USB-C charging port would serve double duty. An SD card slot will also be featured for expandable storage. The console will run Android 12 with a customized launcher and feature full support for Google’s suite of Play apps and services. In a promising sign for fans of Fortnite giant Epic, Qualcomm currently hopes to support the Epic Games Store app on its portable at launch — meaning the long-awaited Android app may finally be nearing release. Qualcomm also has plans to build its own content portal. It was unclear if Qualcomm was interested in partnering with cloud streaming providers like Google’s Stadia or NVIDIA’s GeForce Now, though the company’s pride in the graphics capabilities of its own silicon would obviously make local play more of a showcase feature.

Qualcomm’s current target is to launch the device in Q1 of 2022 — meaning it will likely feature the next generation of Snapdragon silicon. We don’t know if the company will use a bespoke, customized chip design, or if Qualcomm plans to use it to demonstrate the flexibility of its off-the-shelf solution. The typical suite of sensors like Bluetooth, GPS, accelerometers, and dual-zone haptics are included. Of course, it wouldn’t be Qualcomm without 5G: the portable will feature connectivity for fifth-generation wireless networks (curiously, with Qualcomm’s older X55 modem), but it’s unclear if models with Wi-Fi only might be offered. The company’s targeted price point is $300, but we’re not currently sure if that price includes the detachable gamepads or the aforementioned 5G. We do not believe any version of the console will function as a standalone mobile handset (i.e., have telephony features).

As for distribution, Qualcomm plans to offer direct sales to consumers, but also wants to use its US carrier connections to get on store shelves. That could mean specifically carrier-branded variants, though given the likely small volumes of product involved, I wouldn’t bet on any significant differences between them. Speaking of volume, according to our source, Qualcomm doesn’t have any delusions of unseating Nintendo: the company’s expectations aren’t of overnight commercial success. Rather, Qualcomm hopes it will inspire its partners to explore new form factors as the line between “mobile” and “console” gaming increasingly blurs.

Like any product with a year or so between itself and retail existence, it’s possible Qualcomm could scuttle the launch of its unannounced console for concerns about commercial viability or any other number of reasons.

Qualcomm was contacted prior to the publication of this story. A Qualcomm spokesperson cited the company’s standard policy of not commenting on rumors or speculation.

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