Despite the lack of an official announcement from Nintendo on the topic, it is widely accepted that their upcoming console- the ‘NX’- will feature a portable handheld to complement a traditional home console component.
Fuel was recently added to this fire when IHS Technology senior principal analyst Hiroshi Hayase stated that he expects “a small recovery in shipments of flat-panel displays (ranging from 3.1 to 5 inches) for game devices because of Nintendo’s new game hardware expected to be released in 2016” (‘Nintendo NX will be a console and a handheld, set to release this year, report says’).
Interestingly, there is one image that adorned the subsequent flurry of affirmative articles (see: clickbait)- a drawing ripped straight out of a patent granted to five Nintendo employees, which was published online on December 10th, 2015.
But is this patent really the holy grail of all Nintendo ‘NX’ internet sleuthing finds? Is this patent even related to the ‘NX’? While waiting for Nintendo to make an official announcement about the ‘NX’ is testing your patience, let’s test this patent.
“A non-limiting example information processing apparatus comprises a housing, and a first portion of the housing is formed in an elliptical form when viewing from the front. A display panel and a touch panel constitute one main surface of the first portion. Holes are formed in left and right end portions of the display panel and the touch panel, and two operation sticks are provided through the two holes. When viewing the first portion from the front, an area except key tops of the operation sticks becomes a display area.” — Abstract from the official patent application
Essentially, the patent application describes what appears to be an elliptical video game controller or handheld device where the entire front panel/ screen is a touchscreen, save for the presence of two hexagonal thumb sticks. The screen will be LCD or OLED, with the potential for the implementation of 3D technology. The top of the device is adorned with two shoulder buttons, with a slot for a gaming cartridge or SD card sitting in between them. The handles of the controller/ handheld are akin to a typical gaming controller.
The patent also describes the potential for the device to have non-gaming functions as well as inbuilt gyro sensors and accelerometers.
So there you have a basic explanation of what the jargon-filled patent describes- mercifully the drawings seen above are provided with the official documents. Now let’s address the internet dwellers’ concerns with this patent.
Is this the ‘NX’?
Nintendo have not stated that this patent has anything to do with the console codenamed the ‘NX’. However, Nintendo have not stated that any specific or non-specific piece of hardware in existence or in planning is related to the ‘NX’, so it is possible that this patent outlines plans for some component of it- especially when taking Hiroshi Hayase’s comments into consideration.
Regardless, it is important to recognise that the filing and approval of a patent does not indicate that said design will be realised in the form of production. Take, for example, this patent for a specific seat design filed by Airbus industries in December of 2013.
Many would consider the above seat design to be hell on earth…. Or in the skies? I like to call it, cyclist’s dream. (Airbus Industries PR team, I’m available for an interview any time). My point is that it is highly unlikely that this design will ever come to an airbus near you but ownership has been established on the off-chance that elements of it could be used later down the track/ flightpath. The same thinking can be applied to Nintendo’s patent in that it could simply be a design that has been regarded highly enough to warrant filing for its protection without any thought to production at this stage in the game.
Then again, in late 2014, reports surfaced that Nintendo and Sharp were entering a partnership that would allow Nintendo use free-form screen technology on a product that would start production in early 2016. The glove fits. And it’s size ‘NX’.
Does this patent show a WiiU Gamepad part 2?
Working under the assumption that the handheld device detailed in Nintendo’s patent application IS the ‘NX’…
There is widespread concern that the device is entirely touchscreen, and is simply a glorified faux-smartphone, a rehash of the WiiU gamepad or even the PS Vita in a nostalgic Nintendo-like controller.
Firstly, Nintendo have already stated that the device or devices related to the ‘NX’ will be unlike the WiiU (see Part 1 of this series). In addition to this, the patent indicates that there are two hexagonal/ pentagonal thumbsticks that protrude from the touch screen which can be tilted and pushed, already dispelling this “it’s all a touch screen” hysteria. In any case, while the touchscreen element of gaming may not appeal to older gamers (if you owned a GameBoy, this includes you), the newest generation of gamers have grown up on a diet of smartphones and tablets, meaning they are potentially more accustomed to and skilled with touch screen gaming than button or stick-based devices. Consider this in conjunction with Nintendo’s recently announced partnership with smartphone company DeNA, and it is not so unlikely that touch gaming will have some influence on Nintendo’s future.
Does the layout of this controller mean that we won’t be able to see the touchscreen?
One of the biggest concerns expressed online is that the thumbsticks on the device are too big and players will not be able to see the gaming surface because their thumbs will intrude on the screen. Simply look at the drawings and images provided with the patent and one will see that the thumbsticks are no bigger than the thumb- with plenty of viewing surface available.
This hysteria may have been caused by artists’ impressions of the potential device, the most popular of which depicts a Mario Kart adorned handheld console (courtesy of reddit). Advice? Keep calm and stick to the official drawings.
Here ends my three part series on the Nintendo ‘NX’- the device that may or may not exist in the mechanical flesh sometime in 2016. Regardless of when the hardware drops, it will certainly be interesting to see how many of the copious amounts of speculative truths turn out to be actual truths. Nintendo are known for their innovative contributions to the gaming sphere, and with profits falling (or proving non-existent) in recent years, there is even more incentive for them to seek to blue shell the competition, so I expect great things from the Nintendo ‘NX’. Hopefully I won’t have to start my next ‘NX’-related article with ‘Sorry but the cool console you were looking for is in another castle…’