Top 5 Portable Gaming Devices That Didn’t Survive the Mobile Era

5 min read

At the dawn of the mobile era, portable gaming consoles like the Nintendo 3DS and Sony’s PSP 3000 still ruled the backseat on family road trips and the front page of gaming console sales reports.

After all, the closed-loop nature of developing a game for a single console had its inherent benefits. The nascent mobile phone gaming developers had to build code sturdy enough to run on scores of different phone hardware/software configurations, while single console game development was straightforward. In addition, every app developer focusing on mobile gaming had to handle their own marketing, while hardware makers like Nintendo and Sony were able to devote part of their portable system promotion budgets to support game makers. Despite all of that logic, consumer spending on gaming apps for mobile phones outgunned portable gaming system revenues 3-to-1 by 2013, which would be fair to say that from 2013 onwards, the fate of portable gaming consoles was pretty cemented.

Gaming App Development Industry Chart
Source: App Annie

App Annie’s VP of corporate communications Marcos Sanchez explained why, “Smartphones’ ease of use, low price point (due to subsidies), and multi-functional use as a gaming and primary communications device have given them a ubiquity across a broad demographic that portable consoles will never have. Add apps that are fun and engaging, and that deeper penetration can equate to big dollars for game app developers.”

Logic doesn’t always win, but you can bet on ubiquity.

The unlikely success of Nintendo’s retro-handheld Switch portable gaming system in 2017 obscures the sad tales of the many contenders who fell before the ever-present might of mobile gaming. Here’s a look back at what could have been.

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1. The Cybiko

Russia nearly launched the mobile phone gaming era a good 8 years earlier than the iPhone. The Cybiko came out in 2000 in unapologetic neon pink and featuring a full QWERTY keyboard. Critics noted that the portable gaming console looked like an elongated BlackBerry made of bubble gum. Prefiguring the app store concept, the Cybiko’s homepage allowed you to download a handful of games via a USB, as long as you had plenty of time to kill. The visuals were terrible and the memory was practically non-existent, but you have to bear in mind the “What if…?”

The Cybiko Portable Device

2. Gizmondo

Opening with a bang, the Gizmondo portable gaming system by Tiger Telematics launched with a posh flagship store on London’s Regent Street in 2004. The store’s high-tech 3D TVs, black marble everything, and Swarovski crystal detailing made an odd backdrop for the lumpy, mostly-plastic device. It was meant to sell at around £229 but barely sold anything at all, leaving the company in debt for more than £230 million with a couple of years. If the portable console had launched with more than a single game, it might still be here today.

The Gizmondo European Portable Device

3. Nintendo DS Devices

Over the years, Nintendo devices have played a key role in helping to launch portable devices into the mainstream abyss. From 2004 and onwards, Nintendo devices came in a variety of forms, ranging from the original ‘Nintendo DS’ to later iterations known as the ‘DSXL’, ‘3DSXL’ and the ‘Switch’. Surprisingly, DS devices act as an anomaly to the portable gaming curse, as when one depreciates in popularity and value, another newer version of that model is released, with the hopes of regaining mass appeal. However, in today’s society and with the inclusion of mobile gaming apps, it is evident that Nintendo’s portable devices are still struggling to maintain their appeal amongst the crowded market, as according to insights, mobile games increased their generated revenue by 59% this year alone, vs console games generating only 22%.

The Nintendo DS Portable Device

At the dawn of the mobile era, handheld gaming devices like the Nintendo 3DS and Sony’s PSP 3000 still ruled the backseat on family road trips and the front page of gaming console sales reports.Click To Tweet


4. PlayStation Vita

Sony and Nintendo have gone head to head (or controller to controller) in the world of portable gaming consoles since the legendary Game Boy handheld arrived in 1989. By 2011, Sony really had all of the portable gaming system knowledge it needed to market a winner. Instead, it released the ‘PlayStation Vita‘. It was powerful, had a deep bench of popular games, and purred like a dream. The only problem was that Sony had a limited promotional budget and the lion’s share went to their full-size PlayStation 4 portable gaming console. Starved for attention in a world where mobile phone gaming was dominating the market, the Vita just faded away.

PSP Playstation Vita Portable Device

5. The Pandora System

Jet black and deadly serious, the Pandora was a portable game system without a sense of humor. It was really a mini-mobile computer or subnotebook, but the world just wasn’t ready for it in 2010. Maybe something about the name Pandora and how much the device resembled a box frightened consumers with concerns about what evils might be unleashed when they opened it. In any case, at the bottom of the box was Hope, and so at least there’s that.

The Pandora Handheld Device

It’s always interesting to look back at the ‘What ifs’ and the ‘What could have beens’ of the potentials that portable gaming consoles could’ve offered. In a world dominated by mobile gaming apps, it’s even more crucial to ensure that your app stands out amongst the crowd. So, if you have an app idea, Talk To Us today!

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