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A handheld game console is a lightweight, portable electronic device with a built-in screen, games controls and speakers. Handheld game consoles are run on machines of small size allowing people to carry them and play them at any time or place. Unlike video game consoles, the controls, screen and speakers are all part of a single unit.

In 1977, Mattel introduced the first handheld electronic game with the release of Auto Race. Later, several companies—including Coleco and Milton Bradley—made their own single-game, lightweight table-top or handheld electronic game devices. The oldest true handheld game console with interchangeable cartridges is the Milton Bradley Microvision in 1979.

Nintendo is credited with popularizing the handheld console concept with the release of the Game Boy in 1989, and continues to dominate the handheld console market with successive Game Boy, and most recently Nintendo DS, models.

History

Origins

Origins of handheld game consoles are found in handheld and tabletop electronic game devices of the 1970s and early 1980s. These electronic devices are capable of playing only a single game, they fit in the palm of the hand or on a tabletop, and they may make use of a variety of video displays such as LED, VFD, or LCD. In 1978, handheld electronic games were described by Popular Electronics magazine as "nonvideo electronic games" and "non-TV games" as distinct from devices that required use of a television screen. Handheld electronic games, in turn, find their origins in the synthesis[citation needed] of previous handheld and tabletop electro-mechanical devices such as Waco's Electronic Tic-Tac-Toe (1972) Cragstan's Periscope-Firing Range(1960s), and the emerging optoelectronic-display-driven calculator market of the early 1970s. This synthesis happened in 1976, when "Mattel began work on a line of calculator-sized sports games that became the world's first handheld electronic games. The project began when Michael Katz, Mattel's new product category marketing director, told the engineers in the electronics group to design a game the size of a calculator, using LED (light-emitting diode) technology." Our big success was something that I conceptualized—the first handheld game. I asked the design group to see if they could come up with a game that was electronic that was the same size as a calculator.

—Michael Katz, former marketing director, Mattel Toys. The result was the 1976 release of Auto Race. Followed by Football later the same year, the two games were so successful that according to Katz, "these simple [electronic handheld] games turned into a '$400 million category.'" Mattel would later win the honor of being recognized by the industry for innovation in handheld game device displays. Soon, other manufacturers including Coleco, Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Entex, and Bandai began following up with their own tabletop and handheld electronic games.

In 1979 the LCD-based Microvision, designed by Smith Engineering and distributed by Milton-Bradley, became the first handheld game console and the first to use interchangeable game cartridges. The Microvision game Cosmic Hunter (1981) also introduced the concept of a directional pad on handheld gaming devices, and is operated by using the thumb to manipulate the on-screen character in any of four directions.

Starting in 1980, Nintendo began to release a series of electronic games designed by Gunpei Yokoi called the Game & Watch games. Taking advantage of the technology used in the credit-card-sized calculators that had appeared on the market, Yokoi designed the series of LCD-based games to include a digital time display in the corner of the screen. For later, more complicated Game & Watch games, Yokoi invented a cross shaped directional pad or "D-pad" for control of on-screen characters. Yokoi also included his directional pad on the Famicom game console's controllers, and the cross-shaped thumb controller soon became standard on game console controllers and ubiquitous across the video game industry as a replacement for the joystick. When Yokoi began designing Nintendo's first handheld game console, he came up with a device that married the elements of his Game & Watch devices and the Famicom console, including both items' D-pad controller. The result was the Nintendo Game Boy.

Late 1980s through early 1990s

The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the relaunch of the handheld game console pillar of the video game market after the demise of the Microvision. As backlit LCD game consoles with color graphics consume a lot of power, they were not battery-friendly like the non-backlit original Game Boy whose monochrome graphics allowed longer battery life. By this point, rechargeable battery technology had not yet matured and so the more advanced game consoles of the time such as the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx did not have nearly as much success as the Game Boy.

Even though third-party rechargeable batteries were available for the battery-hungry alternatives to the Game Boy, these batteries employed a nickel-cadmium process and had to be completely discharged before being recharged to ensure maximum efficiency. The later NiMH batteries, which do not share this requirement for maximum efficiency, were not released until the late 1990s, years after the Game Gear, Atari Lynx, and original Game Boy had been discontinued. During the time when technologically superior handhelds had strict technical limitations, batteries had a very low mAh rating since batteries with heavy power density were not yet available.

Modern game systems such as the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable have rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries with proprietary shapes. Other seventh-generation consoles such as the GP2X use standard alkaline batteries. Because the mAh rating of alkaline batteries has increased since the 1990s, the power needed for handhelds like the GP2X may be supplied by relatively few batteries.

Game Boy

Five years after the failure of Palmtex' Home-Computer Software Super Micro Cartridge System, Nintendo released the Game Boy. The design team headed by the late Gunpei Yokoi had also been responsible for the Game & Watch system, as well as the Nintendo Entertainment System games Metroid and Kid Icarus. The Game Boy came under scrutiny by some industry critics, saying that the monochrome screen was too small, and the processing power was inadequate. The design team had felt that low initial cost and battery economy were more important concerns, and when compared to the Microvision, the Game Boy was a huge leap forward.

Yokoi recognized that the Game Boy needed a killer app—at least one game that would define the console, and persuade customers to buy it. In June 1988, Minoru Arakawa, then-CEO of Nintendo of America saw a demonstration of the game Tetris at a trade show. Nintendo purchased the rights for the game, and packaged it with the Game Boy system. It was almost an immediate hit. By the end of the year more than a million units were sold, and 25 million were sold by 1992. As of March 31, 2005, the Game Boy and Game Boy Color combined to sell 118.69 million units worldwide.

Atari Lynx

Atari LynxIn 1987, Epyx created the Handy Game; a device that would turn into the Atari Lynx in 1989. It was the first color handheld console ever made, as well as the first with a backlighted screen. It also featured networking support with up to 17 other players, and advanced hardware that allowed the zooming and scaling of sprites. The Lynx could also be turned upside down to accommodate left-handed players. However, all these features came at a very high price point, which drove consumers to seek cheaper alternatives. The Lynx was also very unwieldy, consumed batteries very quickly, and lacked the third-party support enjoyed by its competitors. Due to its high price, short battery life, production shortages, a dearth of compelling games, and Nintendo's aggressive marketing campaign, and despite a redesign in 1991, the Lynx became a commercial failure. Despite this, companies like Telegames helped to keep the system alive long past its commercial relevance, and when new owner Hasbro released the rights to develop for the public domain, independent developers like Songbird have managed to release new commercial games for the system every year until 2004's Winter Games.

TurboExpress

The TurboExpress was a portable version of the TurboGrafx, released in 1990 for $249.99 (the price was briefly raised to $299.99, soon dropped back to $249.99, and by 1992 it was $199.99). Its Japanese equivalent was the PC Engine GT.

It was the most advanced handheld of its time and could play all the TurboGrafx-16's games (which were on a small, credit-card sized media called HuCards). It had a 66 mm (2.6 in.) screen, the same as the original Game Boy, and could display 64 sprites at once, 16 per scanline, in 512 (some say only 482?) colors. It had 64 kilobytes of RAM. The Turbo ran its two 6820 CPUs at 3.58 MHz in parallel.

The optional "TurboVision" TV tuner included RCA audio/video input, allowing users to use TurboExpress as a video monitor. The "TurboLink" allowed two-player play. Falcon, a flight simulator, included a "head-to-head" dogfight mode that could only be accessed via TurboLink. However, very few TG-16 games offered co-op play modes especially designed with the TurboExpress in mind.

Sega Game Gear

The Sega Game Gear was the third color handheld console, after the Lynx and the TurboExpress. Released in Japan in 1990 and in North America and Europe in 1991, it was based on the Sega Master System, which gave Sega the ability to quickly create Game Gear games from its large library of games for the Master System.

Late 1990s

The Game Boy was nine years old before it got its first succesor. In 1998, the Game Boy Color was released. It used the smaller and lighter form-factor of the Game Boy Pocket, but featured a full color screen. It was also backwards-compatible, so that it could play not only games specifically made for the Game Boy Color, but standard Game Boy games as well. It did not have significantly more computing power than the Game Boy, however.

By this time, the lack of significant development in Nintendo's product line began allowing more advanced systems such as the Neo Geo Pocket Color and the WonderSwan Color to achieve moderate success.

Game.com

The Game.com (pronounced in TV commercials as "game com", not "game dot com", and not capitalized in marketing material) was a handheld game console released by Tiger Electronics in September 1997. It featured many new ideas for handheld consoles and was aimed at an older target audience, sporting PDA-style features and functions such as a touch screen and stylus. However, Tiger hoped it would also challenge Nintendo's Game Boy and gain a following among younger gamers too. Unlike other handheld game consoles, the first game.com consoles included two slots for game cartridges and could be connected to a 14.4 kbit/s modem. Later models had only a single cartridge slot.

Game Boy Color

The Game Boy Color (also referred to as GBC or CGB) is Nintendo's successor to the Game Boy and was released on October 21, 1998 in Japan and in November of the same year in the United States. It features a color screen, and is slightly bigger than the Game Boy Pocket. The processor is twice as fast as a Game Boy's and has twice as much memory. It also had an infrared communications port for wireless linking which did not appear in later versions of the Game Boy, such as the Game Boy Advance.

The Game Boy Color was a response to pressure from game developers for a new system, as they felt that the Game Boy, even in its latest incarnation, the Game Boy Pocket, was insufficient. The resulting product was backward compatible, a first for a handheld console system, and leveraged the large library of games and great installed base of the predecessor system. This became a major feature of the Game Boy line, since it allowed each new launch to begin with a significantly larger library than any of its competitors. As of March 31, 2005, the Game Boy and Game Boy Color combined to sell 118.69 million units worldwide.

The console was capable of displaying up to 56 different colors simultaneously on screen from its palette of 32,768, and could add basic four-color shading to games that had been developed for the original Game Boy. It could also give the sprites and backgrounds separate colors, for a total of more than four colors.

Neo Geo Pocket Color

The Neo Geo Pocket Color (or NGPC) was released in 1998 in Japan. It was a 16-bit color handheld game console designed by SNK, the maker of the Neo Geo home console and arcade machine. It came after SNK's original Neo Geo Pocket monochrome handheld, which debuted in 1998 in Japan (and was released in the U.S. in 1999).

In 2000 following SNK's purchase by Japanese Pachinko manufacturer Aruze, the Neo Geo Pocket Color was dropped from both the U.S. and European markets, purportedly due to commercial failure.

The system seemed well on its way to being a success in the U.S. It was more successful than any Game Boy competitor since Sega's Game Gear, but was hurt by several factors, such as SNK's infamous lack of communication with third-party developers, and anticipation of the Game Boy Advance.[citation needed] The decision to ship U.S. games in cardboard boxes in a cost-cutting move rather than hard plastic cases that Japanese and European releases were shipped in may have also hurt U.S. sales.

Wonderswan Color

The WonderSwan Color is a handheld game console designed by Bandai. It was released on December 30, 2000 in Japan, and was a moderate success.

The original WonderSwan had only a black and white screen. Although the WonderSwan Color was slightly larger and heavier (7 mm and 2 g) compared to the original WonderSwan, the color version featured 64KB of RAM and a larger color LCD screen. In addition, the WonderSwan Color is compatible with the original WonderSwan library of games.

Prior to WonderSwan's release, Nintendo had virtually a monopoly in the Japanese video game handheld market. After the release of the WonderSwan Color, Bandai took approximately 8% of the market share in Japan partly due to its low price of 6800 yen (approximately US$65).

Another reason for the WonderSwan's success in Japan was the fact that Bandai managed to get a deal with SquareSoft to port over the original Famicom Final Fantasy games with improved graphics and controls. However, with the popularity of the Game Boy Advance and the reconciliation between SquareSoft and Nintendo, the WonderSwan Color and its successor, the SwanCrystal quickly lost its competitive advantage.

2000s

Game Boy Advance

The Game Boy Advance was a major upgrade to the Game Boy lineIn 2001, Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance (GBA or AGB), which added two shoulder buttons, a larger screen, and more computing power than the Game Boy Color.

The design was revised two years later when the Game Boy Advance SP (GBA SP), a more compact version, was released. The SP featured a "clamshell" design (folding open and closed, like a briefcase), as well as a frontlit color display and rechargeable battery. Despite the smaller form factor, the screen remained the same size as that of the original. In 2005, the Game Boy Micro was released. This revision sacrificed screen size and backwards compatibility with previous Game Boys for a dramatic reduction in total size and a brighter backlit screen. A new SP model with a backlit screen was released in some regions around the same time.

Along with the Nintendo GameCube, the GBA also introduced the concept of "connectivity": using a handheld system as a console controller. A handful of games use this feature, most notably Animal Crossing, Pac-Man Vs., Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Sonic Adventure 2: Battle.

As of December 31, 2007, the GBA, GBA SP, and the Game Boy Micro combined have sold 80.72 million units worldwide.

Game Park 32

The original GP32 was released in 2001 by the South Korean company Game Park a few months after the launch of the Game Boy Advance. It featured a 32-bit CPU, 133 MHz processor, MP3 and Divx player, and e-book reader. SmartMedia cards were used for storage, and could hold up to 128mb of anything downloaded through a USB cable from a PC. The GP32 was redesigned in 2003. A front-lit screen was added and the new version was called GP32 FLU (Front Light Unit). In summer 2004, another redesign, the GP32 BLU, was made, and added a backlit screen. This version of the handheld was planned for release outside South Korea; in Europe, and it was released for example in Spain (VirginPlay was the distributor). While not a commercial success on a level with mainstream handhelds (only 30,000 units were sold), it ended up being used mainly as a platform for user-made applications and emulators of other systems, being popular with developers and more technically-adept users.

N-Gage

Nokia released the N-Gage in 2003. It was designed as a combination MP3 player, cellphone, PDA, radio, and gaming device. The system received much criticism alleging defects in its physical design and layout, including its vertically-oriented screen and requirement of removing the battery to change game cartridges. The most well known of these was "sidetalking", or the act of placing the phone speaker and receiver on an edge of the device instead of one of the flat sides, causing the user to appear as if they are speaking into a taco.

The N-Gage QD was later released to address the design flaws of the original. However, certain features available in the original N-Gage, including MP3 playback, FM radio reception, and USB connectivity were removed.

Second generation of N-Gage launched on April 3, 2008 in the form of a service for selected Nokia Smartphones.

Tapwave Zodiac

Tapwave released the Zodiac. It was designed to be a PDA-handheld game console hybrid. It supported photos, movies, music, Internet, and documents. The Zodiac used a special version Palm OS 5, 5.2T, that supported the special gaming buttons and graphics chip. Two versions were available, Zodiac 1 and 2, differing in memory and looks. The Zodiac line ended in July 2005 when Tapwave declared bankruptcy.

Nintendo DS

The Nintendo DS has two screens (the lower of which is a touchscreen), a microphone and Wi-Fi connectivity. The Nintendo DSi adds two cameras (one outside, one inside) to the original design, and replaces the Game Boy Advance slot with an SD/SDHC card slot.The Nintendo DS was released in November 2004. Among its new features were the incorporation of two screens, a touchscreen, wireless connectivity, and a microphone port. As with the Game Boy Advance SP, the DS features a clamshell design, with the two screens aligned vertically on either side of the hinge.

The DS's lower screen is touch sensitive, designed to be pressed with a stylus, a user's finger or a special "thumb pad" (a small plastic pad attached to the console's wrist strap, which can be affixed to the thumb to simulate an analog stick). More traditional controls include four face buttons, two shoulder buttons, a D-pad, and "Start" and "Select" buttons. The console also features online capabilities via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and ad-hoc wireless networking for multiplayer games with up to sixteen players. It is backwards-compatible with all Game Boy Advance games, but not with games designed for the Game Boy or Game Boy Color.

In January 2006, Nintendo revealed an updated version of the DS: the Nintendo DS Lite (released on March 2, 2006 in Japan) with an updated, smaller form factor (42% smaller and 21% lighter than the original Nintendo DS), a cleaner design, longer battery life, and brighter, higher-quality displays, with adjustable brightness. It is also able to connect wirelessly with Nintendo's Wii console.

In October 2008, Nintendo announced the Nintendo DSi, with larger, 3.25 inch screens and two integrated cameras. It will have an SD card storage slot in place of the Game Boy Advance slot, plus internal flash memory for storing downloaded games. It was released on November 1, 2008 in Japan, and was released in North America April 5 2009 and April 3 2009 in Europe.

As of March 31 2009, the Nintendo DS, Nintendo DS Lite and Nintendo DSi combined have sold 101.78 million units worldwide.

PlayStation Portable

The PlayStation Portable can play music, movies, games, view pictures and browse the web wirelessly.The PlayStation Portable (officially abbreviated PSP) is a handheld game console manufactured and marketed by Sony Computer Entertainment. Development of the console was first announced during E3 2003, and it was unveiled on May 11, 2004 at a Sony press conference before E3 2004. The system was released in Japan on December 12, 2004, in North America on March 24, 2005, and in the PAL region on September 1, 2005.

The PlayStation Portable is the first handheld video game console to use an optical disc format, Universal Media Disc (UMD), as its primary storage medium. Other distinguishing features of the console include its large viewing screen, multi-media capabilities, and connectivity with the PlayStation 3, other PSPs, and the Internet.

Gizmondo

The GizmondoTiger's Gizmondo came out in the UK during March 2005 and it was released in the U.S. during October 2005. It is designed to play music, movies, and games, have a camera for taking and storing photos, and have GPS functions. It also has Internet capabilities. It has a phone for sending text and multimedia messages. Email was promised at launch, but was never released before Gizmondo, and ultimately Tiger Telematics', downfall in early 2006. Users obtained a second service pack, unreleased, hoping to find such functionality. However, Service Pack B did not activate the e-mail functionality.

Game Park Holdings GP2X

Dingoo

The Dingoo A320The Dingoo A320 is a micro-sized gaming handheld that supports open game development. It also supports music, radio, emulators (8 bit and 16 bit) and video playing capabilities with its own interface much alike the PSP. There is also an on board radio and recording program. There are currently two colors available—white and black. Dingoo has announced that a Pink version will be released soon.

Apple iPhone / iPod Touch

iPod touchIn 2008 Apple released an SDK allowing individuals and game companies to develop software for the popular iPhone and iPod Touch hand-held devices. With an installed base of over 50 million units sold and over 20,000 games listed for sale on Apple iTunes App Store, the device has become a de-facto game console of its own. Mainstream game franchises, such as Madden, NHL, Command and Conquer, Call of Duty, Prince of Persia, Mirror's Edge, Tom Clancy's HAWX, Need for Speed, Sims, SimCity, Doom, Wolfenstein, Star Wars, Prey, Rage, Quake, Duke Nukem, Rock Band, Dance Dance Revolution, Driver, Ace Combat, Grand Theft Auto, FIFA, Assassin's Creed, Spore, Earthworm Jim, and NBA Live, have come or are soon coming to the platform.

The sole physical input method for the device is a capacitive touch screen over a screen with 320 by 480 pixels. The original iPod Touch did not have a speaker, but since then all iPhones and iPod Touches have built-in speakers as well as the headphone jack. The iPhone also features a built-in microphone. The devices also have a proprietary "docking port", which has recently been opened up to SDK development with version 3.0 of the operating system SDK.

Zune HD

Zune HDThe Zune HD is a portable media player that is a de facto game console like the Apple iPhone / iPod Touch released on September 15, 2009 in 16 and 32 GB capacities. It utilizes a touch-screen interface and the accelerometer for its game controller.

The Zune HD utilizes the Nvidia Tegra APX 2600 chip allowing it to play games which includes Project Gotham Racing: Ferrari Edition, Vans Sk8: Pool Service, Checkers, Sudoku, Space Battle 2, Lucky Lanes Bowling, Goo Splat, Chess, Shell Game... of the Future, Hexic and Audiosurf(TM) Tilt. Indie titles written with XNA are also available from multiple sources.

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