Nintendo had seen record revenues, net sales and profits in 2009 as a result of the release of the Wii and Nintendo DS in 2006 and 2004 respectively, but in Nintendo's subsequent years, its revenues had declined. With the release of the Wii U in 2012, the company had posted its first loss as a video game company. The New York Times attributed Nintendo lowering financial forecasts in 2014 to weak hardware sales against mobile gaming. Previously, the company had been hesitant about this market, with then-president Satoru Iwata considering that they would "cease to be Nintendo" and lose their identity if they attempted to enter it. About three years prior to the Switch's announcement, Iwata, Tatsumi Kimishima, Genyo Takeda, and Shigeru Miyamoto crafted a strategy for revitalizing Nintendo's business model, which included approaching the mobile market, creating new hardware, and "maximizing [their] intellectual property". Prior to his death, Iwata was able to secure a business alliance with Japanese mobile provider DeNA to develop mobile titles based on Nintendo's first-party franchises, believing this approach would not compromise their integrity. Following Iwata's death in July 2015, Kimishima was named as president of Nintendo, while Miyamoto was promoted to the title of "Creative Fellow".
Initial conception for the Switch started shortly after the release of the Wii U in 2012. Kimishima stated that when Nintendo was evaluating what new hardware they wanted to produce, they "didn't just want a successor" to either the Nintendo 3DS or Wii U, but instead asked "what kind of new experience can we create?" In an interview with Asahi Shimbun, Kimishima stated that the Switch was designed to provide a "new way to play" that would "have a larger impact than the Wii U". Nintendo of America president and COO Reggie Fils-Aimé emphasized the console's appeal as a device that would provide gamers the option to play at home or on the go, and noted that it would enable developers to create new types of games.
Part of the inspiration of the Switch's design was from feedback players had given Nintendo on the Wii Remote, according to Shinya Takahashi. With the release of games like Wii Sports and Wii Fit, players had asked Nintendo if they could make the Wii Remote in a smaller form factor, potentially strapped to a part of their body. This led to Nintendo envisioning what a smaller form-factor controller could provide in both hardware and gameplay, and led to the idea of a console that was small enough with these new controllers to also be portable. Other concepts came out of consumer feedback that was critical of the Wii U. Fils-Aimé said that one common criticism they had for the Wii U was that while players did enjoy using the Wii U GamePad and would want to play games on it anywhere, it became functionless if they moved a distance away from the main console. This served for Nintendo to design a home console that the player could take with them anywhere.
One market area that Nintendo wanted the Switch to satisfy was to create a device that could play "leisurely" video games along games that are aimed to be played "deeply", attempting to bridge a polarization of the gaming market at the time, according to Shinya Takahashi and Yoshiaki Koizumi, general manager and deputy general manager of Nintendo's Entertainment Planning & Development division (EPD), respectively. Takahashi considered that the Switch's design addresses the cultural differences between Western and Japanese gamers, particularly students; while Japanese students generally spend more time together after school and where gaming is integral to that social time, Western students tend to have busier schedules that limit this, making the portability features of the Switch capable of meeting both lifestyles. In some cases, games for the Switch are designed to encourage social interactions in groups, such as 1-2-Switch which requires players to look face-to-face rather than at the screen. Kimishima said that, as Nintendo is an entertainment company, they see games on the Switch that encourage enjoyable social interactions as supporting their ultimate goals. Two key elements that were set to address the mixed market were the ability for the unit to play both on a television screen and while used as a portable, and the use of detachable controllers. The "Switch" name was selected not only to refer to the console's ability to switch from handheld to home console modes, but to present "the idea of being a 'switch' that will flip and change the way people experience entertainment in their daily lives".
Koizumi served as the general producer of the Switch during development. According to Miyamoto, the Switch's development within Nintendo was headed by younger employees, with him saying "...it's really been them that have put this forward and designed this system". Miyamoto said of the younger employees: "I always look for designers who aren’t super-passionate game fans. I make it a point to ensure they're not just a gamer, but that they have a lot of different interests and skill sets." Miyamoto, Takeda, and Iwata were less involved, but provided necessary oversight on the Switch's development principally around the cost of implementing new features that would make the Switch stand out. Around five different prototypes were developed for the Switch before they finalized on the released design. This included developing different methods of how the Joy-Con controllers would physically connect to the console, including using magnets to hold them in place. For Miyamoto, his limited involvement allowed him to spend more time on Nintendo's software titles being developed at the time, such as Super Mario Run.
The development of the Switch continued Nintendo's blue ocean approach for the competitive console marketplace. Rather than trying to compete feature-for-feature with Microsoft or Sony's offerings, Fils-Aimé said that Nintendo's goal for the Switch was "creating products and experiences that are unique and really can't be copied by our competition". Takahashi said that for Nintendo, "we feel like we're an entertainment company rather than necessarily a games or a graphics company", and described the Switch as "a system that really has the best balance of being able to create fun and new ways to play, but doing so with the graphic quality that's still good enough while also being one that's easy to develop for." Miyamoto said that some broad concepts of the Switch extend from the "lateral thinking with seasoned technology" design philosophy of Gunpei Yokoi that Nintendo has used over the last couple of decades.
In addition to the form-factor design, Nintendo needed to balance the power and speed of the console's central processing unit with battery life and the unit's size, coupled with limited development resources and deadlines set by Nintendo's management. One choice made by the development team was to use an existing system on a chip (SOC) rather than creating their own as they had done on previous consoles. Koizumi said that this break from tradition was done to gain more third-party support for the console by using an SOC that developers could easily port to. Nintendo was not focused on raw processing power, but were instead looking to balance the overall features of the system, including battery life and size, as well as keeping in mind their limited development resources and timeline. Koizumi said "The most difficult part was on how to take an overall balance while we were getting entangled with all of those in complexity." To achieve this balance, they did not opt to use the more powerful hardware they could have used, instead using a middle-ground approach to achieve their vision of the Switch.
Speaking to investors in January 2018, about ten months after the Switch's release, Shinya Takahashi said that the Switch could have a lifecycle longer than the typical five-to-six years that current home consoles have. Nintendo has brought a number of "junior" developers within the company to help brainstorm ideas that would "create interesting products" using the Switch hardware that could further reach a wider audience, thus aiding in extending its lifecycle.
The first public news of about the Switch's hardware happened alongside the announcement of Nintendo and DeNA's partnership on March 17, 2015. At this stage, Nintendo referred to the console under the codename "NX", and described it as a "brand new concept". At an investor's meeting in April 2016, Nintendo announced that it planned to release the NX worldwide in March 2017. While Nintendo did not unveil the NX's hardware at Electronic Entertainment Expo 2016 in June, it did announce that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which was originally announced as Wii U-exclusive, would also be released for the NX. At a Nintendo shareholders' meeting following the conference, Miyamoto stated that the company had concerns that competitors could copy ideas from the NX if they revealed it too soon. The following month, rumors began to surface surrounding the nature of the console, including its use of Nvidia Tegra hardware, being a "hybrid" device intended for both home and mobile use, controllers that can detach from the main device and be played separately, and that Nintendo would distribute games on the console via cartridges and digital downloads.
On October 20, 2016, Nintendo officially announced the console under the name Nintendo Switch, alongside a trailer that demonstrated the hardware's nature as a hybrid device. At the time of the trailer's release, Nintendo did not provide many details on features of the platform, though they planned to have events in 2017 to provide more details about the console. The company did state that there are additional features that were not presented in the introductory trailer. Miyamoto and Fils-Aimé presented the Switch to host Jimmy Fallon on a broadcast of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in December 2016. In addition to showing more of the console's hardware and functionality, Fallon was given the opportunity to play part of Breath of the Wild live.
Nintendo revealed technical details of the Switch, including its worldwide launch date and price, at a press event in Tokyo on January 13, 2017. The event was livestreamed, with an English voiceover provided by Nintendo of America through their broadcast and regional accounts relaying details in other languages. A Nintendo Treehouse event occurred the following day to reveal the full launch lineup and upcoming games for the Switch.
The Switch was officially released on March 3, 2017 worldwide, notably in all key markets, but excluding some parts of Asia, including India and Mainland China. It was released with an MSRP of ¥29,980 in Japan, US$299.99 in the United States, GB£279.99 in the United Kingdom, and A$469.95 in Australia; with standardized pricing for the European market varying. The set includes a Switch console, a dock, two Joy-Con controllers (left and right) and straps, a Joy-Con Grip, an AC power adapter and an HDMI cable. There were two Switch bundles available at launch, one with grey Joy-Con and one with neon red and blue Joy-Con. Nintendo feared that a higher price would harm sales, which prompted them to not include any additional hardware or games.
The Switch continued to be officially released in particular markets, such as Argentina on August 15, 2017 and in South Korea and Taiwan on December 1. Independent resellers have been trading the console in Brazil since March 2017 due to Nintendo's exit from the Brazilian market in 2015. Nintendo has since assigned NC Games as their local game distributor in May 2017, and the local company has committed to sell some officially imported Nintendo Switch units in small quantities. In April 2018, CD Media, Nintendo's official distributor in Greece and the Balkans since 2016, announced after opening their new offices in Istanbul, that Nintendo's products will officially be distributed in Turkey later in the year. Nintendo abruptly withdrew from the Turkish market back in June 2012 when then-distributor Nortec Eurasia closed. CD Media released the Nintendo Switch in Turkey in July 2018. In early-2019, Nintendo of Europe signed a partnership with Tel Aviv-based distributor TorGaming Ltd., making them Nintendo's official distributor in Israel, and launched their products in the market, including the Nintendo Switch, on March 1, 2019.
Although the Nintendo Switch had not officially been released in China prior to April 2019, it is still widely available in the country due to grey market imports from Hong Kong and other regions. In January 2018, former Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima said in an interview with Chinese news website QQ that Nintendo has tried to release the Switch in China, but has been unable to do so. Nintendo partnered with Tencent to gain the necessary approvals to release the Switch in China by April 2019, along with a test version of New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe; other Switch games would otherwise need to proceed through China's approval process via National Radio and Television Administration.
A Splatoon 2-themed bundle was released in Europe on July 21, 2017 and in Japan; additionally, a separate bundle that included "neon" green and pink Joy-Con (matching the color schemes from Splatoon 2) was offered in Japan. The bundle was released in North-America as a Walmart exclusive on September 8, 2017. A Monster Hunter XX pack-in bundle was released in August 2017 in Japan, with themed decals on the console and dock. A Super Mario Odyssey pack-in bundle was released alongside the game on October 27, 2017, which includes red Joy-Con and a themed carrying case.
In May 2018, the "2nd Unit Set" was released in Japan, exclusively on the My Nintendo Store at a reduced price of ¥24,980. The bundle was positioned towards households which already owned a Switch and. as such, it did not include a dock, AC adapter, HDMI cable, and Joy-Con Grip. A Mario Tennis Aces and 1-2-Switch pack-in bundle with neon red and blue Joy-Con was released in North America on September 5, exclusively at Walmart. A Fortnite bundle with red and blue Joy-Con which included Fortnite Battle Royale exclusive items and in-game currency was released in North America on October 5 and in Japan on November 22. A Minecraft pack-in bundle with gray Joy-Con and Minecraft stickers was released in Japan on November 30. A Diablo III: Eternal Collection pack-in bundle with themed decals on the dock, console and a carrying case was released on November 2 in Europe and in the United States exclusively at GameStop. A Super Smash Bros. Ultimate-themed bundle, including a branded Dock and Joy-Con, was released the same day, which includes a download code for the game. A Pokémon: Let's Go, Pikachu! and a Let's Go, Eevee!-themed bundles were released worldwide on their game's launch day on November 16. They included a console with Pikachu and Eevee decals on the back, a dock with a decal of both on the front, a right and left Joy-Con and their straps based on the color scheme of each Pokémon respectively, a preinstalled version of the game, and a Poké Ball Plus peripheral. A Mario Kart 8 Deluxe red and blue Joy-Con pack-in bundle was released in North America on November 23 Black Friday.
A red and blue Joy-Con bundle with US$35 Nintendo eShop credit was released on February 15, 2019.