Joy-Con Mod Gives Nintendo Switch Touchpad Control

While Valve’s Steam Controller ultimately ended up being a commercial flop, most users agreed its use of touch-sensitive pads in place of traditional analog joysticks or digital directional buttons was at least a concept worth exploring. Those same touchpad aficionados will likely be very interested in this modification by [Matteo Pisani], which replaces the analog joystick on a Nintendo Switch Joy-Con with a capacitive touch sensor.

As [Matteo] explains in his detailed write-up, the initial inspiration for this project was to create a permanent solution to joystick fatigue and drifting issues. He reasoned that if he removed the physical joystick completely, there would be no way for it to fail in the future. We’re not sure how many people would have taken the concept this far, but you can’t argue with the logic.

The original joystick is a fairly straightforward device, comprised of two analog potentiometers and a digital button. It’s connected to the Joy-Con’s main PCB with a 0.5 mm pitch flexible cable, so the first step for [Matteo] was to spin up a breakout for the cable in KiCad to make the development process a bit easier.

The board design eventually evolved to hold an Arduino Pro Mini, a digital potentiometer, and a connector for the circular touchpad. The Arduino communicates with both devices over I2C, and translates the high resolution digital output of the touch controller into an analog signal within the expected ranges of the original joystick. [Matteo] says he still has to implement the stick’s digital push button, but thanks to an impressive 63 levels of pressure sensitivity on the pad, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Now that he knows the concept works, the next step for [Matteo] is to clean it up a bit. He’s already working on a much smaller PCB that should be able to fit inside the Joy-Con, and we’re very interested in seeing the final product.

We’ve seen several interesting Joy-Con hacks since the Switch hit the market, including a somewhat less intense joystick swap. Between the Joy-Con and the legendary Wii Remote, Nintendo certainly seems to have a knack for creating input devices that catch the imagination of gamers and tinkerers alike.

21 thoughts on “Joy-Con Mod Gives Nintendo Switch Touchpad Control

      1. Haptics would be nice – though I like this mod concept enough to be very tempted without. If you end up going down the haptics route you could even suspend the trackpad assemble with its own rumble for that really nice thumb feel while moving it.

        I use a steam controller a lot and personally find that the very slight dishing on the right trackpad is nicer to use and provides sufficient centering feel to the left pad with its D pad etching. Its subtle enough to not make me want to fix it but its there. On this smaller scale I’d think center feel is going to be even less of an issue – though with how small and how many orientations the joycon could get used maybe it is a good idea.

      2. Well i guess that came and gone. I even signedup for it on the page when they talked about the lawsuit but never heard anything!! Yes i agree it would be great if they added something different that actually works!! I bought my son brand me Joycons and set them up calibrated them and to my disbelief they started drifting and that was about 2 months ago. By the time they fix it he won’t even be interested in it. He’s now playing his ps4 with a Virtual Reality headset from Sony that he Doesn’t put down! He lost 21 pounds from playing the game standing up moving his arms and all that i couldn’t believe it. He’s only 11 he weighs 119 now and is 5’2 wears mens med and a men’s size 9 1/2 sneakers!! Crazy how that VR got him up and active. It was worth every penny.

  1. I swear Nintendo rush the Joy Con’s and didn’t give a crap about dust protection or any quality of live changes, and still havent. You buy a set for a decent chunk lf change and a month later you have to buy a new set when you play them too hard. Then when you send them in they say, “Oh well we found dirt and debris in the contoller. It voids the warrenty so we can’t fix it unless you pay the repair fee.” Its like no duh you’re going to see dust and debris in the controller because you didn’t put in a proper dust protection or make these things for ACTUAL gaming. They should’ve at least taken the design of the gamecube sticks and modded that! Hell this is the Wii remote all over again! You first come out with it and you knew it had signal and reading errors! So you came out with the Wii+ which was the signal fixing sleeve but wasn’t compatible with the old gamers? Then you make Wii+ remotes with the built-in when that should have been the remote the whole time! Look I love Nintendo they are my #1 gaming company, but lately when it comes to systems and controllers they are rushing things way too much! I think Nintendo needa to stop rushing their devices, I dont know how well the switch lite preforms, but they need to work on making better products first before they release new stuff. Its making them look bad in the long run.

    1. It is so easy to replace the joycon sticks when they wear out. And in such small devices they are always going to be less durable than the bulky monsters of the the GC/360 etc. If you are managing to get that much dirt inside yours so fast I’m calling user error, its no high IPX rated design but its far from as bad as you make out. Had mine for quite some time and only replaced all the sticks once and found almost no dirt inside – and it was second hand when I got it!

      So personally on the joycons I salute N for making it so repairable! When you have the design concept of small, functional and multipurpose you run into serious engineering challenges. And getting round some of them they could have done horrible things to make replacing the parts that wear hard, all they have is that annoying Y shaped screw and the fact its small making it fiddly. (I hate joycon ergonomics but they are good multipurpose style tools and with proper add ons at least no longer awful ergo wise)

    2. Perfect is the enemy of good enough. An executive told that to me early in my engineering career. More engineers who don’t work in bureaucratic positions need to think this way.

  2. Awesome hack! Though, for me, it was the trackpads that made the Steam Controller less than comfy. The haptics and configuration were neat, but too much like playing with virtual controls on a phone screen. I really want that rube goldberg contraption of springs and stick under my thumbs.

    FWIW, I was also surprised to find how repairable the joycons are. Weird external screws, but the sticks aren’t glued in once you get it open. 10 minutes to unhook some ribbon cables, unscrew the stick, drop in the new stick, done.

    1. The class action lawsuits passed and they replace them for free! Just Google joycon repair and it should pop up. Unfortunately the Nintendo repair sites aren’t open now though so it won’t be a quick process. :(

    1. I just entered all of the information after googling fix my Joy Cons like Beep said and I was able to give them three serial number three colors of the joy cons and make address ect. When im able they will send me an email to send it. They emailed me the repair ticket!! Thanks a lot!

  3. I’m old & haven’t been a gamer in a LONG time, but why don’t these things come with trim adjustments like PC joysticks used to come with decades ago? There was a slider for each axis that presumably adjusted the resistance so you could center it properly. Seems odd that this is no longer a standard inclusion.

  4. I know this is an old article, but I’m poking around: since the joystick is essentially just two potentiometers and a button, could you replace it (in perfect imagination world) with some kind of regular old knob style potentiometer? Even if some functionality is lost, that’d be fine just to play around.

    I’ve been playing with Korg Gadget on the switch, and I think it would be fun to make a joycon with a knob for that game in particular.

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