DS Shopping Assistant
The Wii and DS era saw many patents revealed and thanks to the unpredictable and innovative features of those consoles, it was hard to discount even the most far-fetched ideas suggested by digging through applications at the patent office. The Wii’s Vitality Sensor, for example, made it past the prototyping phase and was actually announced at E3 before being quietly shelved in the same place the Quality of Life stuff has presumably been retired to.
This supermarket assistant app for DS looks pretty ambitious and would have told you where to find specific groceries by interacting with the store’s wireless network using an RFID system. With various companies now experimenting with in-store apps or cashier-less systems, it seems Nintendo might have been onto something when it was poking at this area many years ago, but with the proliferation of smart devices, we don't imagine anyone cracking out their Switch to find out where the beans are kept these days.
Continuing in the Wii era, we’ve looked at this in the past and at the time it certainly looked like a reincarnation for R.O.B. from the NES days. The patent references servo motors in the figure and looks distinctly more complex than your old Robotic Operating Buddy – likely a factor in us not seeing this one make it to market.
Looking at it several years after the fact, though, there are arguments to be made that some of the Toy-Con in the Labo kits may have benefited from ideas detailed here. A cardboard contraption that vibrates along the ground when you insert a Joy-Con might seem entirely dissimilar, but the kernel of the idea is still there.
Game Boy case for touchscreen devices
A far more recent example than any we’ve looked at so far, this Game Boy case for touch devices came to light last year and would appear to function in conjunction with a smartphone or similar touch screen device. The inputs made by the player with the buttons on the case and transferred to the touchscreen below and this translates to the action shown through the ‘window’ of the case.
The cost to manufacture a case like this would be significant, though, especially when you factor in the wide variety of differently shaped smart devices on the market - Nintendo would arguably be better off making a Game Boy Classic Mini console.
Still, it’s a neat idea.
A non-square screen integrated into a controller
In the long run up to the reveal of ‘NX’, all sorts of rumours and mock-ups were doing the rounds. The console we’d come to know as Switch was supposedly to include modular customisable controls, a touchscreen with positional haptic feedback, and shoulder buttons that were also scroll wheels – remember all that?
One of the biggest ‘leaks’ at the time was a supposed NX controller featuring a large, flat oval screen across nearly its entire surface. This followed on from news that Nintendo had reached an agreement with Sharp to use its free-form display tech which allowed for screens of non-standard shapes and the ‘leaked’ controller looked almost identical to images from a patent application. This immediately set alarm bells ringing, but the idea of a screen baked into your controller that isn’t just a tiny VMU-style window is a compelling one and could open up a new world of second-screen style UI potential. At its most basic it could display map info much like the Wii U GamePad did, but imagine button presses that created waves of light across the pad, or HD rumble on a per-button basis. Imagine what a nightmare fingerprint magnet it would be…
It would be a costly bit of kit, too – Joy-Con are pricey enough already and we wouldn’t fancy switching the sticks out for replacements if these developed the dreaded drift. Still, the possibilities remain intriguing.
Image projection and motion / gesture recognition via infrared
Several Nintendo patents relate to the projection of images, although its something that no Nintendo hardware has been capable of so far. One example was for a device that could project an image onto uneven surfaces, while another involved throwing ambient light on the wall following an in-game trigger of some sort.
With rumours flying about the abilities of the NX, a patent detailing infrared and gesture recognition tech that included the ability to project images got many people excited. Ultimately the right Joy-Con included an IR camera used in rare instances (most notable with Nintendo Labo), but despite there being one or two Easter Eggs in certain peripherals, as far as we know there’s no secret projector built into the the Joy-Con.
Load-sensing fitness controller
Back in 2016 a patent (from two years earlier) for a U-shaped gyro controller that measured the pressure applied via load sensors surfaced online. Looking a little like the wireless steering wheel for Xbox 360, it was described as a 'training implement' and looked to be another accessory in the lineage of the Wii Fit Balance Board and the Wii Fit U Fit Meter. Several years went by and Switch made us forget all about it.
Fast forward to 6th September this year and Nintendo's cheeky reveal of what we'd come to find out was Ring Fit Adventure showed off an odd ring-like device that you plug your right Joy-Con into which appeared to sense the tension when you squeeze and pull at it. Later revealed to be called the Ring-Con controller, it demonstrates how long an idea detailed in a patent can take to come to light in an actual product.
Hinged Joy-Con controllers
And finally we come to the most recent filing finding which set us off on this journey in the first place. The top third of these hinged Joy-Con variants can be 'bent' back 20° or so whether they're connected to the main console or not. We're unsure if this would improve ergonomics and make them more comfortable - we were more excited by the prospect of them having some sort of effect on gameplay. Perhaps clicking them up could lock S-foils in attack position in a Rogue Squadron game, for example, or flick the headlights or wipers on in a driving game.
Further images show a version where the body of the controller itself is curved. Could this be Joy-Con 2.0, with a drift-less stick redesign, a video projector, a proper D-pad and no connection issues? Could this attach to a new Switch which itself is curved using Sharp's free-form screen tech? Will Half-Life 3 launch on this stunning new high-performance Wonder-Switch?!...
No, almost certainly not. That's the trouble with patents (the ones with diagrams, at least) - they set the imagination racing. Nothing wrong with that, but as we’ve seen time and again, companies will patent any idea on the off-chance it’ll ever be used or could be licensed in the future. There are dozens more like the ones above, but whenever they crop up it's important to have a bucketload of salt at the ready. Still, it's fun to dig through and find the threads of ideas that did find their way - in some form - into an actual product.
What are your thoughts on these hinged Joy-Con? Do you reckon they'll see the light of day? Could they have some sort of gameplay application or is it just an ergonomic feature? Let us know your fantastical ideas for them or any other bizarre Nintendo patent below.