Why it matters to you
It’s a good start, but Nintendo needs to make more substantial changes to its chat service for it to be useful.
The Nintendo Switch uses a dedicated smartphone app in order to facilitate voice chat, instead of using a built-in program like just about every other modern console. Up to this point, the app has been severely limited, not even allowing users to continue talking if their phones went to sleep, but this is no longer the case.
The latest update for the Nintendo Switch Online app, which you can download now on both iOS and Android devices, allows you to continue talking in voice chat even if your device goes into sleep mode or its screen is locked. Previously, doing so would call your call to end abruptly. The same is also true for using other apps at the same time — you can now check texts or look at Twitter without ending a call with your friend in Splatoon 2.
The Nintendo support page stresses, however, that calls will still end if the app you’re using has audio output, so watching a YouTube video could cause problems. On newer Android devices using power-saving features, you’ll also need to disable battery optimization to guarantee that your calls aren’t ended prematurely, as well.
To some, however, this is still going to be a Band-Aid solution to a larger problem. Without a traditional voice chat program available on the Nintendo Switch, it’s impossible for players to chat if the two aren’t playing the same game. Given the size of the Switch’s library, this isn’t a huge issue right now, but as more games are released and players’ game collections begin to vary, friends won’t be playing the same games with each other as frequently. Right now, it still makes far more sense to just Skype chat with your buddies, as you don’t have to hook your phone up with a confusing series of wires. In many ways, the Wii U’s infrastructure was more convenient than the Switch’s, even offering a simple video chat application.
Will the recent update make you more likely to use the Nintendo Switch Online app to chat with friends, or will you stick with a third-party option? With Nintendo Switch Online transitioning to a paid subscription service in 2018, Nintendo still has its work cut out for it.