Anyone who’s owned a Nintendo Switch knows one of the system’s most vexing issues is analog stick drift. Basically, with enough wear and tear, joysticks will start drifting in a certain direction, so that even if you leave your thumb off the stick, your avatar will continue to slowly move. It’s annoying, and an issue that affects almost all modern controllers, but it seems to be a particular issue for the Switch’s itty-bitty Joy-Con controllers. Those analog sticks are so small that they just wear out faster – again, anybody who’s owned a Switch for any length of time has probably replaced several sets of Joy-Cons.
Despite the issue of Joy-Con stick drift being well-known for years, Nintendo hasn’t done anything about it, although that may finally change when the company’s next console arrives. Nintendo recently filed several new patents, one of which is new joystick that uses magnetic fluid to register movement. While the precise technical details may differ somewhat, this parent sounds similar to a “Hall Effect” joystick.
For those unfamiliar, most modern analog sticks contain a potentiometer that uses actual physical electric contacts to register movement and are thus prone to wearing out. On the other hand, Hall Effect sticks use magnetic fields to detect movement without any physical contact, and thus don’t suffer the same kind of wear and tear issues. While no major first-party controllers use this tech yet, some third-party peripherals have begun to offer it.
Now, again, it isn’t entirely clear that Nintendo is working on a traditional Hall Effect joystick. It seems like they may be making something slightly different, but magnetic fields are definitely a big part of it. At the very least, it seems there’s a good chance Nintendo is rethinking their joystick tech for the Switch 2 (or whatever it ends up being called) which is great news for fans’ wallets. Here’s exactly how Nintendo describes their new joystick patent…
“This information processing system includes – a controller including an operation element to be displaced from an initial position by a user’s operation, a restoring force imparting section applying a restoring force for returning the displaced operation element to the initial position, a resistance section using a magnetorheological fluid whose viscosity changes with the magnetic-intensity and which becomes resistant when the operation element is displaced from/to the initial position, and a magnetic field generation section which provides the magnetic field to the magnetorheological fluid; and a circuit capable of controlling the magnetic field generation section. The circuit controls a magnetic-field intensity so the viscosity of the magnetorheological fluid periodically changes at least between a first viscosity state and a second viscosity state in which the viscosity is lower than the first viscosity state so that the operation element returns to the initial position by the restoring force.”
Of course, not all parents end up becoming real products, so don’t get too excited until we actually know what’s in Nintendo’s next-gen controllers. Rumor has it Nintendo’s Switch successor was shown off to developers at Gamescom and may offer PS5/XSX levels of power, with possibly superior ray tracing abilities.
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