“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” It’s a quote that, over time, has become trite and almost trivial due to overuse. Still, there is a reason why it is oft repeated: it’s usually true. With that sentiment in mind, let’s think back to, oh, six or so month back. We were starved for information on Nintendo’s new system, the “NX.” Rumors were flying, left and right, on what the system actually was. We saw “leaks,” fake mock-ups, and, most interesting of all…. patents. Here we had honest, actual information from Nintendo. These patents seemed like the key to everything, but looking back, most of them did not amount to anything. This phenomenon seems to happen at every console launch. People see something exciting and buy into the hype, only to be let down at the end. Let us look back at some of these “NX” patents. In doing so, maybe we will learn to be a little less excited for non-existent features on Nintendo’s next console.
Ah, this was a big one. The NX’s “secret sauce.” The way it would be able to keep up with the PS4 and Xbox while still being a portable. This even fell in line with the “dock” rumor for the system (which did, in fact, end up being true). The difference here is that the dock would have allowed for additional computing power. The current dock does no such thing, making this a dead end for what would end up being the Switch. The real innovation here is that Nintendo could, in theory, continually update the dock in order to give larger and larger increases in performance. I thought this was a good idea then and still think it’s a good idea now, and I would not be surprised if Nintendo returned to it in the future. It especially makes sense if they continue with the hybrid design of the Switch. I would even imagine that an upgraded dock could be included in the future to interact with the Switch tablet, but this seems highly unlikely as the system currently connects with USB-C which comes with its own limitations. Another interesting point with this patent is that multiple consoles could boost each other using the same Supplemental Computing device by “mak[ing] its resources available to the other game console[s] during the specific times and not during other time”. Neat.
Accessory and Information Processing System
Wow, and here we have an example of a patent that actually came to fruition! These patents came much closer to the Switch reveal (after the infamous Eurogamer leak), and while they are not that exciting they do in fact show off one of the Switch’s main gimmicks. The detachable Joycon controllers are an important part of how the Switch works. They allow you to use the grip controller in tabletop/docked mode and allow for impromptu two player games on the go. This patent showcases that feature…. But it doesn’t show off everything that you can do with the controllers once they are separated from the system. This patent, then, actually carries a different lesson with it: a real patent still does not always tell the entire story.
The Freeform Controller
This is probably the most infamous of the patents whose ideas did not make it into the system. This is due to a fake leaker making a mockup of the controller using a 3D printer. They had many people, including most of the the Source Gaming staff, convinced of its authenticity. The actual patent is interesting in that it seems it would process information itself (thus acting as a handheld) while also interacting while still presumably working as a controller for a home system. The abstract of the patent reads as such “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.” The idea of a free form screen, and a lack of buttons, is as interesting as it is alien. True, you get more screen, but your hands would also obstruct your vision. Meanwhile, a lack of buttons could allow you to completely customize your button layout for every game you play. This is a revolutionary concept, but many gamers (myself included) are not convinced that haptic feedback alone could replace the sensation of physical button. At the end of the day, though, it didn’t matter. Nothing approximating this patent has seen the light of day, and I am honestly doubtful it ever will.
There were a few more patents I could have gone through, but I felt these were the most interesting and that each one was a window into how we view patents when first discovered in relation to how a final product is designed. Try to keep these in mind next time you’re digging through patents in order to find out more about an upcoming console or device.