Nintendo’s patent could turn your phone into a Game Boy
What’s the best way to find out what your favourite gaming and technology are up to? It’s not by reading their press releases or media coverage. It’s by checking their patent applications and filings.
The most innovative companies tightly control the information they give to the media. But by looking up their patents around the world, their plans are unveiled. Whether these patents make it past the drawing board is always unknown, but they shed light on the current direction of technological developments.
Merging old and new
Nintendo has always kept its most established gaming franchises away from mobile devices. The gaming giant has always focused instead on consoles. With its focus more on handheld console sales, this hesitance is explained. The fear is that by linking its money-spinning gaming franchises with mobiles, sales of handheld consoles would be hit.
However, smartphones are now ubiquitous, and this won’t change. It seems that Nintendo is working out ways to work with them without damaging its current sales. How do we know? Because Nintendo has filed a patent at the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a smartphone case that adds Game Boy buttons to the device.
While there have been plenty of unofficial mobile cases that look like Nintendo Game Boys, Nintendo is planning something more impressive. The plastic shell encases the smartphone in a design shaped exactly like a Game Boy. In fact, by looking at the first image in the patent, you’d think it was a Game Boy. Second glance will show you something more interesting.
It’s much more than a standard smartphone case. Its buttons react with the smartphone’s touchscreen beneath the case. A window is included in the design, which would show just part of the smartphone touchscreen. The patent describes this window as the display for the game the user would be playing through the case. Or, the user can completely open the case up to see the whole smartphone display.
Flip case style
The phone casing is a ‘flip case’ style and in addition to the viewing window has physical buttons. The ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘D-pad’, ‘start’ and ‘select’ buttons perfectly replicate the beloved Nintendo Game Boy.
According to the patent, the case works in the same ways as any other. It is designed to protect the smartphone and looks particularly similar to products from Samsung. The Samsung S View smartphone cases also had a display window. However, its reason for inclusion in this case is clearly to replicate the Game Boy.
The buttons sit on top of conductive contacts on the reverse side of the flip case cover. The contacts then touch the smartphone screen and registers as a touch. For this to work, the case would need to be rigid, so that the buttons are always in the right place when it’s closed. This in turn means it can’t be a universal case to fit any smartphone. Nintendo would need to produce a different version for each device, including all kinds of branded phones and iPhones.
Game Boy style
From the patent it seems that the window will frame the Game Boy style game. The rest of the display could show nothing, but still be activated by touch. Most of today’s smartphones have an OLED display, which would use no power to display black pixels on the ‘blank’ part of the screen.
The patent also suggests that games may come with an optional full-screen mode. This would have the buttons on-screen so that anyone can play the games, whether they have the Game Boy case or not.
Of course, it doesn’t reveal exactly what could or would be controlled by the casing. Whether Nintendo would offer official emulation software for iOS or Android is not yet known. It’s more likely, given Nintendo’s usual way of working, that it will port games over. These would likely be standalone games and be designed specifically to work with this case.
Will it happen?
If this phone case ever becomes a reality, it could open the Nintendo catalogue to smartphone users. Nintendo has been showing other signs that it is moving towards matching the old with the new. It has recently started selling NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) style controllers for the Nintendo Switch.
These controllers are designed to be used with the Switch’s online subscription service. They are priced at £50, which begs the question of how much Nintendo would expect for this phone case, should it ever reach users.
Nintendo is one of the many tech giants that the team at Dawn Ellmore Employment follows. By keeping on top of patents, we can keep on top of a fast-changing industry.
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