Considering the original Nintendo DS was released in 2004, you can understand how Bluetooth wasn’t top of its features list. It was also absent from the original PSP (PSP-1000) which was released worldwide in 2005. Sony first added Bluetooth connectivity in their PSP GO in 2009, but the 3DS missed out on this feature with its 2011 release.
Six years later, we’ve seen many iterations of the 2DS and 3DS systems, followed now by the Nintendo Switch. Being more of a hybrid console system than strictly a handheld system, Nintendo seem to have focused on clear points of differentiation from other systems. Which other console can you take on the go with you, then come home and simply pop into a cradle and continue playing on the big screen? Does your PSP Vita come with a kickstand for a “tabletop” mode and removable controllers? Nope.
So, with such a focus on features that set the Switch apart from other systems, why have Nintendo left out the one feature that even your mobile phone has supported for many, many years now? Why haven’t they offered Bluetooth headphone support? Is it a sign of Nintendo hating Bluetooth all together?
Bluetooth Is an Old Friend
It may seem that Bluetooth is new technology, but the Bluetooth 1.0 specification was actually released back in 1999. The first mobile phone featuring Bluetooth came out in 2000, with the first laptops and printers featuring it in 2001. You can see more detail on the Bluetooth timeline on their history page if you’re interested. Bluetooth headphones themselves have been around since 2004, so there’s been a decent amount of time for them to become commonplace. Why then does Nintendo appear to have forsaken this technology?
There are still significantly more wired headphone sales worldwide than Bluetooth, but Bluetooth has been growing year on year. With just about every major brand now offering Bluetooth headphones or earphones as part of their line-up, it’s a safe bet that Bluetooth headphones are going to continue saturating the market. Is this going leave Nintendo behind the curve when other portable gaming systems support Bluetooth audio?
The Bluetooth Joy-Con Controllers
Here’s where things get interesting. The Switch’s detachable Joy-Con controllers use Bluetooth connectivity to communicate with the console. That’s right; a Bluetooth connection is already part of the Switch’s ecosystem. It’s just not a Bluetooth connection you can use for headphones.
At first, this sounds extremely puzzling. But on reading some of the Joy-Con connectivity issues which had been noted before the console’s release, it began to make more sense. The controllers were randomly losing their connection to the console, which created a frustrating situation during gameplay. Embarrassingly, Nintendo didn’t fix the connectivity issues prior to launch, but rather advised users via its support site to take other measures such as removing obstacles between the Switch and its controllers and switching off other wireless devices like laptops and tablets.
Nintendo later announced it had fixed the issue and that future units would not be affected. Was the potential interference from others devices the reason for headphone connectivity being omitted? Is the Joy-Con controller the real reason for the Switch’s Bluetooth functionality not applying to headsets?
Other Headset Options for the Switch
One of the connection options I was excited to see on the switch was the USB Type C charging port. It’s a clever alternative to the proprietary connectors of previous generations and a clear adoption of another hardware standard that’s gaining momentum and undoubtedly the future of USB connectivity. Nice work, Nintendo! Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like USB Type C headphones will work via the Switch’s USB C port. That’s not a huge issue considering that USB C Headphones are few and far between right now. But the future-proofed USB connection included on the Switch suddenly seems not as future-proof as it first appeared.
There are also small, inexpensive Bluetooth transmitters available that plug into the 3.5mm headphone jack, creating a workaround for the use of Bluetooth headphones. Having a dongle hanging out of the headphone jack all the time isn’t great though. It can be annoying when you’re on a train or in transit and it’s one more piece of equipment you have to carry with you and keep charged.
The only practical option left may be to be stick with a traditional wired pair of headphones that utilise the analogue 3.5mm audio jack. This could present a problem when having the Switch docked at home though. There’s no audio output on the Joy-Con controllers, so short of dragging a 3.5mm extension cable across the loungeroom floor, I can’t see headphones as an option when you’re playing in home console mode.
I’d hazard a guess that Nintendo isn’t planning to make Bluetooth headphones connectivity a part of their gaming solutions anytime soon. Knowing that it’s implemented Bluetooth for controller connectivity on the Switch makes you wonder if it’s a simple case of reducing potential interference sources to the controllers. Perhaps Nintendo believes there’s not enough market share of Bluetooth headphones to warrant connectivity with their console right now. Or maybe there’s a beef with Bluetooth that we’ll never know about for sure. What do you think? Does Nintendo hate Bluetooth?