In Short: A patent Nintendo filed back in March was recently uncovered, showing off a case that can turn a smartphone into a functional portable gaming device that strongly resembles the company's classic Game Boy handheld console. The case in question would work similarly to Samsung's vertical keyboard case for some of its Galaxy phones, in that the buttons on the case would engage with the phone's touch screen, triggering touch events linked to those inputs by some sort of software. The case has a number of magnetic points resting against the phone, which would mean that it could potentially detect when the case is put on and switch into a special software mode designed to be operated with that case, perhaps via a companion app.
Background: Turning a (smart)phone into a portable game console with physical controls is not a new concept. All sorts of form factors for Bluetooth controllers exist, and there's even a Game Boy-like device from Hyperkin that can be used with retro game emulators, or even play real Game Boy cartridges. This official solution from Nintendo would be the first of its kind, and since it seems to be able to fold away, would allow the device to be carried along with the phone at all times, then flipped away for using the phone as normal. This is mostly speculation at this point, since Nintendo has yet to release anything official related to this device.
Impact: Nintendo getting into the phone accessory business, if it actually happens, may spur a wave of copycats. This may well end up being a blueprint for how to tackle the handheld side of the "Classic" retro console movement that Nintendo itself spearheaded. Indeed, this patent could actually be the Game Boy Classic, and come with built-in games that would be transmitted from the hardware somehow, or locked away in a companion app. None of that, of course, is in the patent itself; that documentation only deals with the physical parts of how the case works. While Android fans have been able to emulate classic Nintendo titles and other retro games for years, this should be exciting news for the iOS crowd, and those who want an official solution on the Android side. It's worth noting that the case design points to a one-size-fits-all approach, but that doesn't necessarily mean that will be the case if and when this patent becomes reality.