A Third Party’s Look At The Nintendo Switch’s Phone-Based Voice Chat Is A Technological Monstrosity – Forbes
Despite the fact that the Switch has already been released and is proving to be a huge success for Nintendo, there remain some inexplicably unanswered questions about the system. One of them is how exactly Nintendo’s upcoming paid online service will work, one that reportedly relies on a smartphone app for standard online activities like group-finding and voice chat.
One simple question has dogged his idea from the start. If you’re relying on your phone for voice chat, how the hell do you listen to your game audio? One headphone from two different sets in each ear? That was originally a joke, but we’re now getting a look at what might be the actual solution, and it’s almost just as awkward.
The image above comes from HORI, a third party manufacturer who has assembled a Splatoon-themed headset and connection system that may be our first real look at how voice chat will work on the Switch running through a phone.
As you can see, it’s kind of a nightmare, involving three different cables and two devices, the Switch and your phone, plugged into a central port that appears to be able to raise and lower phone audio and flick the mic on and off. It’s…just insane looking. I can maybe see this being a last resort for online play on the go, but is this how you have to voice chat even when you’re at home? With the Joy-Con grip and the Pro controller not having headphone jacks of their own (another issue itself), this concept raises even more questions.
Yes, it’s important to take at least one step back from this. What we’re seeing here is a third party device from HORI, not something official from Nintendo. But it clearly was made with Nintendo’s blessing (with the official Splatoon branding), and so while Nintendo may have a less ugly headset and not roll out a port shaped like a literal arrow, I have to wonder if the fundamental concept of whatever the “official” way to do this will be any different. Again, this has been a constant question about how you combine game audio and phone audio if you’re using an app for voice chat, and this solution, though crazy looking, is one of the only things I can think of that makes some amount of sense. But I have to believe Nintendo has some solution in place for when the console is docked, though maybe that’s just one-earbudding your phone while the TV plays game sounds, I’m not sure.
While everybody loves the Switch, Nintendo’s commitment and ability to produce a high quality online play experience remains a big unknown for both fans and publishers. Xbox Live and PSN and their relatively simple voice chat/grouping capabilities are old hat at this point, but here we have Nintendo traveling back in time to…I don’t even know when, exactly. We’ve genuinely never seen voice chat operate this way, so there’s really nothing to compare it to. This seems like reinventing the automobile with five wheels. I worry that if the “solution” here really is this convoluted, that Nintendo’s online service will remain unappealing to most.
Again, I want to wait and see what Nintendo comes out with. I have asked them if their own device is anything like this one, but have yet to hear back (Update: Nintendo: “We have nothing to announce on this topic”). But it is easy to see that how even if the style of the device is different (Nintendo has specifically said they want to avoid “bulky gamer headsets”), if they really are determined to rely on the phone for voice chat, that it almost has to look something like this. If they’ve given HORI permission to show this off, perhaps a reveal of their own system is imminent. It’s hard to know what Nintendo was thinking here. The Switch is such an elegant solution to the issue of owning two dedicated gaming devices for home and away. It’s impossible to understand how they go from that to this unholy idea for voice chat.
Best case scenario, maybe this is how it works with the Switch on the go, but at home, perhaps there will be some native ability of the system to have more traditional voice chat like the Xbox and PlayStation and PC. Though we have never really gotten any indication that’s the case, nor do Switch controllers seem to have the audio ports required to make that happen.
I hope it’s not as bad as it looks, but if it is, Nintendo is going to have a whole host of new online challenges in the Switch era, seemingly a never-ending battle for them.