Originally released in 1989, Nintendo’s Game Boy took the world by storm in a way that few — if any — had a hope of competing with. Its reign over the handheld market lasted until early 2003, just shy of a good 14 years. That kind of run for hardware is not only unprecedented, but we may also never see its like ever again.
With that said, the Game Boy’s success might have been much shorter lived had it not been for a few noteworthy key factors. One is the bombastic success of Pokémon, whose surprise success upon its 1996 release not only game the handheld a new lease on life, but even jump-started an accessory many had consigned to the junk drawer after the novelty of multiplayer Tetris wore off.
But as we’ve seen with many a console, handheld, and mobile device, another key to extending its longevity was Nintendo’s willingness to refresh the hardware in different ways. The philosophy of creator Gunpei Yokoi, “Lateral Thinking of Withered Technology,” saw to it that the device was not the most advanced piece of tech on the market even upon its release. This allowed the Game Boy a number of advantages, such as having a greater battery life than its competition, but also in that advancements over what was in place wouldn’t break the bank.
Before looking at how Nintendo was able to iterate on the Game Boy over its life, a quick look at the original is in order. Described by many as the “brick” model, the original Game Boy measured in at 90mm (3.5″) wide by 148mm (5.8″) in height, with a depth of 32mm (1.3″). With four AA batteries inserted (in lieu of the optional battery pack, it weighed 300 grams, or just over half a pound. A bit clunky, at least by today’s standards.
In terms of color, only one was available at launch: Off-white, with a black Dpad, two red face buttons (A and B), grey Start and Select buttons, and a blue logo beneath the grey frame for the screen. The screen itself was a monochrome dot matrix display capable of displaying black, white, and two shades of grey with a green “creamed spinach color” tint (a factor that did not go ignored by the competition).
With stats like these, there’s plenty of room for improvement, right? We’ll see what aspect Nintendo decided to tackle first next time.