Patent filings are a shaky indicator of future product plans, and you shouldn't ever bank on the ideas making their way to market. That said, this application submitted by five Nintendo employees is worth sharing for two reasons: not only is it completely bizarre and uniquely Nintendo, but there's circumstantial evidence that the company might actually want to make this thing.
Essentially, the patent describes a video game controller where the elliptical front-facing panel is itself a touchscreen, with two holes or notches punched out for analog sticks to poke through. The patent filing notes that the screen could be LCD or OLED, and it would even be possible to use 3DS-style glasses-free 3D technology. The touch panel may be resistive or capacitive and could cover almost the entire display area of the screen. Beside the analog sticks, there are two triggers or shoulder buttons on the top side of the controller, with a card slot in between the pair. The controller also includes a speaker.
The filing lists examples of potential use cases for the technology, like adding ambient fire effects around the analog sticks, displaying guides for which direction to push the sticks in, and showing Japanese hiragana characters around the sticks to aid text entry. The filing also shows how the controller would have non-gaming applications, like showing a browser in the middle of the screen with controls around the right stick and smartphone-style status information around the left; all of this would rotate if you turned the controller on its side.
Nintendo has been linked with this kind of display technology before. Last year Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that the gaming company would be the first customer for Sharp's Free-Form Displays, which are IGZO LCD panels that can be cut into a wide variety of shapes. Mass production was reported to be planned for early 2016.
Nintendo has been linked with this kind of display technology
More recently, The Wall Street Journal reported that Nintendo's mysterious upcoming NX platform would include both a console and an independent mobile device that could work alone or in tandem with the home unit. The company's current console, the Wii U, has a controller with a touchscreen that can display entire games, but it only works within range of the console. Nintendo merged its home console and handheld divisions into one team almost three years ago, and late CEO Satoru Iwata frequently spoke of the inefficiencies of developing separate games for multiple platforms like the 3DS and Wii U. Nikkei, meanwhile, has suggested that the NX will be based on Android.
Does all of this mean we're getting a first glimpse of the NX with this filing? Maybe not. But as an idea, it would certainly seem to fit with everything we've heard until now about what Nintendo's really up to. The company has said it will reveal more about the NX next year; stay tuned.