Nintendo Patents A Detachable Dual-Screen Gaming Device; Maybe The Next Switch?

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Nintendo is ripe for a new piece of hardware, which is always a momentous event for game console purveyors. As a result, any sort of leak, rumor, or filing concerning new hardware by Nintendo is noteworthy, even when it doesn't seem like a device that the company might actually bring to market.

What we have here is a patent filed by Nintendo in Japan and subsequently published on the World International Patent Office website. The patent is fully in Japanese, and it's for an "ELECTRONIC APPARATUS". That doesn't tell us much, but the abstract and the images make it pretty clear what's going on. This is obviously a patent for a new handheld gaming device.

The two devices combined in "mode 1."

Actually, it's two devices, technically speaking. The patent says that the first and second devices can be "detachably attached" to one another, and that each device has its own screen. Most interestingly, the two devices can be attached in two different ways: first, a method that turns the whole thing into an extra-thick handheld with one screen, or, by flipping the top device around, a method that turns it into something like a Nintendo DS.

Now, obviously, the immediate expectation would be that this design is for a "4DS", or successor to the Nintendo 3DS. However, Nintendo has reaped great benefits from its move to a single hardware device with the Switch. Instead of splitting its developers' efforts between a mobile platform and a console platform, it simply created a device that could do both, and that device—the Nintendo Switch, in case you didn't get it—has enormously successful. It's hard to imagine that Nintendo would want to split the market that way again.

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Two figures demonstrating the reversible connection on the dual-screen device.

With that said, the design in the patent diagrams certainly doesn't look anything like the Switch. Then again, it doesn't really look like a 3DS, either. Most likely, the diagrams in the patent are purely for illustration and don't represent anything remotely similar to any upcoming Nintendo product. They do set the mind awhirl, though.

Nintendo certainly loves its gimmicks. Even folks who don't pay attention to mobile hardware will surely recall the Wii U's second-screen gimmick and the Wii's emphasis on motion controls, but this trend goes all the way back to the NES and its R.O.B. add-on. Nintendo handhelds have likewise had many more, like the Game Boy Camera, the GBA's E-Reader, and the 3D effect on the 3DS.

A strange angle on the devices in "mode 2".

There's no telling if this contraption will make it to market, but it's easy to imagine a second-generation Switch taking the idea of the Joy-Cons—where they can be split to accommodate two players—a step further with a dual-screen device that can split into two devices if necessary. We'll see what happens next year when Nintendo is expected to launch its new machine.