Nintendo has been curiously silent about whether or not the Switch contains a touch screen. The trailer didn’t show any interaction via touch, and none of the views of the console revealed a stylus slot. I don’t think this is just a coincidence, or something that Nintendo carelessly left out, I think that Nintendo has left touch-controls behind.
The no-touching hypothesis
Let’s get this out of the way: this would be a weird move, considering the resistive touchscreen was a hallmark of the DS, 3DS, and Wii U. It makes sense if you think about it, that the Switch would not have a touch screen, given the way that the Switch’s docking station works. The Switch’s “tablet” contains all of the processing hardware, whereas the Wii U’s tablet was just a display and a controller that connected to the console via wireless. The key difference (besides allowing the Switch to be fully portable) is that to connect to your TV, the Switch must be placed in the docking station, which leaves the supposed touchscreen inaccessible.
If we can’t use the tablet and the TV screen simultaneously, then Wii U or 3DS backwards compatibility is impossible for the vast majority of games, which require touchscreens and/or the use of two screens simultaneously. Further, if the Switch DOES offer a touchscreen and Switch games take advantage of it, you might not get the full experience playing on a television without access to the touchscreen. (Interestingly, this might also make the Wii U version of Zelda: Breath of the Wild the “definitive” version due to its touch features and map screen.)
These problems could be solved, however, if the Switch dock offers wireless display connectivity like the Wii U had, allowing you to use both the screen and your television simultaneously. This is certainly possible, though might add significantly to the cost of the cost of the device, which will already be an issue.
Further, I think such a feature will go against the philosophy of the device. Forgive me for getting overly speculative here, but I think Nintendo’s vision for the Switch is to have a device that gives you the same experience at home AND on the go, with no differences other than screen size and sound quality.Nintendo was also very careful to show that the gyroscopes are contained the the detachable JoyCon controllers, so that you can use motion controls with the portable screen or on your TV without buying extra hardware. Leveraging touchscreen controls or dual-screen features would imbalance the use-cases and make certain games less playable on the go. I don’t think Nintendo will go for that.
And the ultimate question: if this console were keeping a feature that we’re all expecting, why stay silent? Why not just tell us? I think all signs and innuendo point to no touchscreen on the Switch.
What would complete lack of a touchscreen really mean for the Switch and for Nintendo?
Beyond making it even less likely for backwards compatibility with Wii U and 3DS digital titles, it means Nintendo is dramatically reducing its utility as a multi-purpose device. Without a touchscreen, browsing the internet, sending messages, and writing blog posts becomes much more difficult. I think this means Nintendo wants to make it seem as little as possible like a “tablet.” Nintendo doesn’t want parents to refuse to buy their kids a Switch because they already have a tablet, and they probably don’t want people to compare the Switch negatively to the iPad in its battery life and app ecosystem. So, they’re heading off those comparisons by making the Switch as far removed from an iPad as possible to avoid direct competition. This also keeps Nintendo from having to offer a 4G/LTE version that people might expect if the Switch functioned more or less as a tablet.
My guess and a middle road: Yes to a touchscreen, no to touch gaming
Because complete lack of a touch screen would be really wacky for a device that seems so likely to have one, I think it will indeed have a touchscreen, BUT that Switch-native games will not be allowed to use it. I think the touch-screen will only be used for things like messaging apps, internet browsing, and ports of mobile games (I believe ports of Pokemon GO, and whatever the mobile Fire Emblem game is called are likely.)