People familiar with the Nintendo Switch are well aware of one of its most frustrating problems, which is analog stick drift. To put it simply, over time, the joysticks begin to move on their own in a specific direction, causing your character to slowly move even when you’re not touching the joystick. This issue is not unique to the Nintendo Switch; it affects most modern controllers, but it seems to be especially problematic for the tiny Joy-Con controllers that come with the Switch. These small analog sticks tend to wear out more quickly, and if you’ve owned a Switch for a while, you’ve likely had to replace several sets of Joy-Cons due to this issue.
Even though the problem of Joy-Con stick drift has been widely acknowledged for years, Nintendo has not taken any significant action to address it. However, there is hope that this might change with the release of the company’s upcoming console. Nintendo has recently filed several new patents, one of which involves a new joystick that relies on magnetic fluid for tracking movement. While the exact technical specifications may vary, this patent appears to resemble a “Hall Effect” joystick in function.
For those who may not be familiar with the technology, the majority of contemporary analog sticks incorporate a potentiometer that relies on physical electric contacts to track movement. Consequently, they are susceptible to wear and tear over time. In contrast, Hall Effect sticks utilize magnetic fields to detect movement, eliminating the need for physical contact, and therefore, they do not experience the same wear and tear problems. While major first-party controllers have not adopted this technology yet, certain third-party accessories have started to introduce it.
Once more, it’s not entirely evident whether Nintendo is developing a conventional Hall Effect joystick. It appears that they might be working on something slightly distinct, but magnetic fields are certainly a significant component of it. At the very least, it appears likely that Nintendo is reevaluating their joystick technology for the successor to the Switch (regardless of its final name), which is promising news for the wallets of fans. Here is the precise description of Nintendo’s 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.”
Certainly, not all patents translates into actual products, so it’s important not to get overly excited until we have concrete information about Nintendo’s next-generation controllers. There have been rumors suggesting that Nintendo showcased its potential Switch successor to developers at Gamescom, hinting at the possibility of it rivaling the power levels of the PS5 and Xbox Series X, possibly even surpassing them in terms of ray tracing capabilities.