Soapbox: 4 years and the Switch finally got Bluetooth audio, so voice chat is next?

Nintendo Switch AirPods
Image: Nintendo Life

I can hear the forks being sharpened, so let me say that right away. really like Nintendo. I spend most of the day concentrating on its hardware, games, and related fun times. So I tease the company fondly, but my God, it deserves a bit of gentle teasing every now and then.

And so this week, four and a half years after the launch of the Switch, Nintendo added support for Bluetooth sound devices through a firmware update, joining every other major piece of entertainment hardware in doing so. Hurrah! I’ve gotten so used to having a Switch-only wired pair of headphones on my travels that watching the update launch was quite fun. Now I can put down the wired headphones, which have already seen too manyYou know what travel and related wear and tear, in a safe place to rest in semi-retirement. I know, I could have bought a Bluetooth dongle, but I figured if I was going to have more trouble with the Switch headphones, I might as well enjoy the quality of my one fancy pair, which is wired.

I tease the company affectionately, but my God, it deserves a bit of gentle teasing every now and then.

That’s not to say that the current solution for my inexpensive, entry-level Bluetooth headphones isn’t without charming Nintendo quirks. For example, with my headphones I need to tell the Switch to connect every time, not only does it immediately recognize them as an old friend in the same way as other devices. I round up some fancy and expensive fruit-themed Bluetooth headphones that connect without that extra step, so that’s a slight wrinkle – it only takes me five seconds to connect anyway (luckily, it only needed me to pair them once), so I’m not. inclined to complain too much.

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With my setup, it also feels like a little work, which is clearly because Nintendo has to post notices about controller number limits every time it connects a Bluetooth device. That’s not really a big deal in the real world, although the connection quality doesn’t seem great. The sound is fine, but the latency is only significant enough to be noticeable, that little throb of sound that comes after the action. Again, it is very small, and after a while the brain is likely to switch off and stop noticing the disconnect. However, compared to the setup and low latency I have for headphones that play other systems on the TV, the Switch solution when playing in portable mode has that low-fidelity feel.

Still, it’s a welcome addition. It has also been fun talking with colleagues and family. why Nintendo could have taken so long. The most logical answer, based on Nintendo’s previous history with technology like this, is that the company may have considered it a security risk; Having been so badly burned in the DS era in particular, the big N is often downright paranoid about exploits and hacks, which helps explain why there is no user-accessible web browser on Switch, although exists and is used at the system level for various functions. Bluetooth is a peculiar and highly vulnerable technology, and Nintendo may have been too cautious to accept what all other companies agree is a reasonable price to pay to keep customers happy.

Alternatively, it may have been a strange glitch, related to the way Nintendo configured its firmware for wireless controllers; It is debatable that it will take more than four years to resolve, but let’s recognize that it is a potential factor.

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Image: Polina Tankilevitch, Pexels

However, let’s imagine Nintendo is going through a eureka moment and looking at all those cool features on the PS3 and Xbox 360, maybe proper voice chat is next? We know, unlikely, but it would still be nice.

Although the Switch doesn’t have a built-in microphone, that’s not a reason why the Switch doesn’t support voice chat. The Xbox Series X controller doesn’t have a microphone either, because many people have dedicated wireless earbuds and earbuds that get the job done. It’s all about the UI and platform headlines let make it happen, and that has always been the problem with Nintendo and voice chat. The Switch has its phone app, of course, which is … look, let’s just say it’s largely abandoned, it’s a general waste of time, and it quickly moves on.

When it comes to Sony and Microsoft consoles, you can easily set up parties, put on a headset, and chat while you play. Switch has caught up a bit in some ways with this, with gradual improvements that have made it easier to invite friends and join online games quickly, so it’s a nice touch. However, to really talk on Switch (in games that haven’t implemented their own voice chat solutions), you have to launch an app of your choice on a phone / tablet / whatever and talk to friends through that. When you compare that to solutions built into other gaming systems, which even manage the sound inputs between game audio and voice volume, the DIY methods for Switch players are pretty silly.

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Nintendo Switch Online.JPG
Image: Nintendo

It’s not hard to understand why Nintendo has moved away from voice chat and in some ways the way of thinking is honorable. Over time, Nintendo has continually moved away from supporting system-level communication between players due to concerns about the safety of children, in particular. Nintendo is a brand that has built its name on being safe for families and young gamers, so whenever communication apps or services have been abused, the company has gone the safe route and done so. closed. It is understandable and the feeling is good.

That said, however, it could be argued that excessive caution is bad with the aim of uniting and connecting people through the wonderful medium of games. It is possible to have system-level voice chat services along with robust personalization and parental control options. If parents are concerned, they can simply disable the feature behind that password-controlled menu and the problem is solved. There’s a chance that just about anything in the tech is negative or abused, but clever design can mean that those features can be 99.9% positive.

Will it happen? Well, I won’t hold my breath, but I figured Nintendo would never bother to support Bluetooth audio devices on the Switch for its own weird reasons and that just appeared out of nowhere. Maybe, Just maybe Nintendo will take a step back from its overly cautious approach and allow gamers to really connect via its wonderful hardware.