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Is Handheld Console Gaming Dying with the Rise of Smartphones?

Smach Z handheld gaming devices 2020

Remember when it seemed like dedicated handheld gaming consoles were everywhere.
Like who didn't have a game boy!
But the point is now our choices for mobile gaming seem to be either playing on your smartphone or buying a Nintendo switch which honestly is more of a hybrid console than a true handheld anyway
So how did we get to this paradoxical situation where mobile gaming is more popular than ever before and yet we're super limited in our choice of platform
It helps to look at some relevant history which is actually mostly the story of how Nintendo pushed its rivals more or less completely out of the market
Nintendo initially recognized that there was a real market for mobile gaming not long after the success of early handheld games from companies like Mattel

Nintendo Gameboy Advance in hand

These took the form of single game handheld toys that weren't true consoles
Instead you had to buy a new unit for each game you wanted to play
Nintendo's first foray into gaming on the go was with a lineup of toys called game and watch which creator Gunpei Yokoi thought up while watching a board businessman playing with a calculator on the train
The game in watch series was wildly popular and helped the market for handheld games surge.
Not to mention that it helped establish Nintendo as a handheld gaming brand in the minds of consumers ahead of the launch of the original game boy in 1989.
Now the game boy wasn't even the first console with interchangeable cartridges that title went to Milton Bradley's Microvision that had actually come out 10 years prior even though it was actually a dumb terminal with all the processing handled inside the cartridge itself
But unlike the Microvision 16x16 resolution display
The Game Boy could handle detailed 160 by 102 pixel images and perhaps even more importantly it was accessible
You see there were actually some cool portable contraptions that came out before the game boy

V-tech Game Mate 3d handheld console

The V-tech game mate from 1983 actually had 3D complete with binocular-like eye cups but the Game Boy had long battery life and was relatively affordable
These characteristics along with a solid library of games helped the Game Boy fend off technologically superior rivals
Like the Sega Game Gear for instance
It had a Color screen and even an optional TV tuner which you might think would help justify its higher price of 150 compared to the game boys 90 but the battery life was terrible and that was a big deal before built-in rechargeable batteries became common
There also just weren't many killer apps partly because Nintendo got the lockdown on third party game developers
Early on you see Nintendo often made third party devs sign agreements not to release the same game for a competing platform for some period of time
So the game gear ended up just porting over lots of games from the master system the home console that preceded the Genesis which wasn't enough to make the Game Gear a serious threat to Nintendo's dominance
Other systems like the Atari Lynx and Turbo Express faced similar issues and were even more expensive than the Game Gear
Then other competitors cut costs but were based around unappealing gimmicks
For example from 1997 was cheap and touted internet capability but this was limited to a text-based service over a 144 kbit connection that no games even used
Aside from those issues bad timing also doomed other would-be Nintendo rivals

Sega Megadrive Arcade Ultimate Portable

In 1995 sega tried releasing a portable Genesis called the Nomad
But with more interesting home consoles around the corner including Sega's own Saturn,
People weren't terribly interested in a rehash of an aging platform
Then there was the Neo Geo pocket color from 1998 which was released at the height of Pokemon mania between that and the fact that the Game Boy Advance was on its way in 2001
Nintendo already had the market cornered
The company brought us the innovative DS in 2004 and it was around this time that Sony tried to become a major competitor with its Playstation portable or PSP which actually became a relative success due to its powerful internals, lovely screen and solid lineup of games

PSP Portable Handheld gaming device

But a big reason for the PSP's ultimate undoing was that it was trying to replicate the full Playstation experience rather than building something completely with mobile gaming in mind
The Nintendo DS's dual screen design for example would be awkward on a home console but made a ton of sense in a handheld form factor
The PSP's successor the PS Vita ended up making the same mistakes but unfortunately with an even worse game library as Sony was far more concerned with its upcoming Playstation 4
Meaning that the 3DS became the dominant handheld until the switch was released in 2017.
Then when you consider how powerful smartphones were getting all that time opening up more possibilities for gaming on what was already a do it all platform that you had in your pocket anyway
It's not surprising that dedicated gaming gadgets from companies not named Nintendo have mostly been squeezed out of the market to the point where we might not even be able to place snake on our graphing calculators anymore
So that was all in today’s post.
Thanks for reading and also check out our other posts and leave a comment if you have a suggestion for a future post.

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