Nintendo Switch: Notes on New Improved Joy-Con Controllers

Nintendo Switch: Notes on New Improved Joy-Con Controllers

Nintendo Switch

The Switch, Nintendo's current and very successful video game console, recently celebrated its fourth birthday. The hybrid device was launched worldwide on March 3rd, 2017, and a lot has happened since then. What hasn't changed since then: The controllers included in the scope of delivery, the so-called Joy-Cons, which can be used individually, in pairs or directly connected to the tablet part of the console. The controller's design was criticized from the start, and the infamous Joy-Con drift is also a problem for players. But now a revision could be imminent, with which some things will change at the Joy-Cons, as a new patent entry shows.

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Classic D-Pad?

The patent is from the beginning of March and shows revised Joy-Con models. What immediately catches the eye: The analog stick moves downwards, the D-Pad, which was previously installed as four individual buttons, moves upwards - so the positions swap with each other. But that's not all: The patent drawing shows the D-Pad as a classic, i.e. coherent D-Pad, just like the Pro controller of the Switch (buy now) and most other common gamepads. Fans have long wanted such a classic D-Pad.

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New analog stick?

In addition, the analog stick is obviously a different version than before, which looks confusingly similar to the analog stick of the Nintendo 3DS. So it is obviously a much flatter variant that should benefit mobile players in particular. However, all players may also benefit equally when the drift problem is finally resolved with the new analog sticks. With many Joy-Cons this has so far ensured that the console does not actually register and execute inputs from the analog stick.

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Joy-Cons for Switch Pro?

It is possible that the renewed Joy-Cons from the patent are also those that might come with a Switch Pro that might appear. Rumors about an improved model of the Nintendo console have been circulating for a long time, and recently they were again greatly inflamed, among other things by various media reports with reference to industry insiders who are allegedly familiar with the matter >

Nintendo’s Super Switch makes sense for everyone involved

Nintendo is preparing to release a Super Switch this holiday, according to original reporting from the Nate the Hate podcast on YouTube. This revision will likely feature a new system-on-a-chip (SOC) that will enable the system to bring in extra performance, improved efficiency, and Nvidia’s Tensor cores to power deep-learning supersampling. Now, a Bloomberg report is echoing what Nate the Hate has said for weeks, and that has Nintendo fans scrutinizing the company’s strategy.

At first glance, a new SOC for the Switch revision sounds expensive. And Nintendo has not prioritized expensive components and powerful hardware for decades. So, why would it reverse course now? Well, the reality is that a new SOC likely makes sense for Nvidia, and that in turn helps it fit into Nintendo’s vision. But on top of that, this is something that should benefit developers and the consumer.

The best way to understand this is to look to phones and tablets. While the Switch is definitely still a gaming machine, it is also a tablet. And that world of devices can illustrate what is happening with Nintendo and Nvidia.

Sticking with old processors doesn’t save that much money

If you want to understand why a new SOC makes sense for Nintendo, take a look at Apple. Its current most-affordable smartphone is the $400 iPhone SE. That device uses the company’s A13 Bionic SOC, which launched in 2019. On the tablet side, the entry-level iPad uses 2018’s A12.

Now, if you know anything about the Nintendo Switch internals, you know that its Nvidia Tegra X1 SOC originally debuted in late 2014. But the point here isn’t that Switch’s tech is ancient compared to an iPad or iPhone. Instead, I would highlight that Apple doesn’t really use a lot of old parts in the first place.

Apple has a lot of reasons for using fresher chips even in its discount products, but the big one is that it’s not worth it. The money the company would save from keeping older parts around is money it would lose from not driving its new parts to hit scale at the fastest rate possible.

Nintendo is likely looking at a similar situation now. The company must move on from the Tegra X1 at some point, but spinning up a foundry for a new chip is expensive. Getting Samsung or TSMC making new parts for a Switch revision, however, could help lower the cost for an eventual Switch successor.

The Switch Pro is likely the first step in a long-term plan to bring costs down as Nintendo looks to the future. And that future could include more frequent revisions that mimic Apple’s iPhone or iPad cycle.

This also benefits Nvidia because it helps bring down the costs of producing the next-gen Tegra for other products as well. And Nvidia could also benefit from introducing PC features like DLSS to a console audience.

What kind of power to expect from the Super Nintendo Switch

If a Super Switch is coming with a new SOC that is capable of DLSS, that implies an inherent and significant jump in processing power. Nintendo is already downclocking its current Switch and Switch Lite processors to extend battery life and reduce excess heat production.

A new SOC running on a more modern Nvidia graphics architecture and on a smaller manufacturing 8nm Samsung or 7nm TSMC process would have the efficiency to unlock that extra power and then some. And that is before Nintendo and third-party developers begin applying DLSS to games — although that is something that requires a software update on a per-game basis.

The takeaway here is that a Switch Pro really could represent a significant jump in terms of performance. I would imagine that without DLSS, the Switch revision will match the power of a PlayStation 4 slim or Xbox One S. With DLSS, the system could see performance parallel in the ballpark of a PS4 Pro.

This is something that could benefit both players and developers.

Where does this leave Switch owners and developers?

On the player side of things, the reported Switch Pro could make games look better and run smoother. But it also may justify its existence in a way that many previous Nintendo handheld revisions did not.

The New Nintendo 3DS had improved graphics capabilities, but the experience was mostly the same as playing on a standard 3DS console. Switch Pro could help any game with unlocked resolution and framerate to run better than ever before. So this time, when the hardcore Nintendo fans show up for the Switch revision, they may end up getting their money’s worth instead of simply falling prey to a fear of missing out and planned obsolescence.

For developers, this increased the player base to sell Switch games to. As the hardcore show up to buy the Switch Pro, they will sell their old systems or give them away. Now the player who spends the most has a new device and will want to buy games for it, but studios can also target the more casual player who just picked up an older Switch for the first time ever.

And then the combination of power and DLSS should make it much more realistic to see ports between Microsoft and Sony platforms and the Switch. This will help those bigger studios finally reach out to the Nintendo audience on Switch without having to strip away the visual fidelity. That could result in some games that only come out on the Super Switch, but if Nintendo plans to keep the Switch around for longer through more revisions, that might not matter.

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