Nintendo GameBoyUnless you've been on an extended vacation to the planet Jupiter for the past twelve years, you're no doubt aware that the GameBoy is the best-selling handheld ever and continues to hold a stranglehold over the market despite never having been the most advanced system out there (until the release of the GameBoy Advance). At 114 million units and counting worldwide, the GameBoy's the little engine that could. Through it, Nintendo has both tapped into and helped define just what the handheld marketplace expects in a game system.
Released in 1989, the GameBoy was Nintendo's followup to their long-running successful Game & Watch series of handhelds. The GameBoy was, frankly, not all that much more powerful than the G&W's, with a pea-green monochrome screen and a slow CPU. It would go up against Atari's Lynx in its first year, NEC's ultra-powerful Turbo Express a couple of years later, and Sega's Game Gear further still in the future - and it would beat them all. Still further down the road Neo Geo, Tiger, Bandai and others would all aim for Nintendo's dominant position but would never really compete. The reasons? For one thing, Nintendo had the game library. Hiroshi Yamauchi insisted Tetris would be the pack-in game starting on day one, and he predicted sales of 25 million units in the first three years based on the addictiveness of the hot puzzle game. He'd be pretty close in his prediction. Tetris, combined with lots of first-party content, ensured the most popular game library on the handheld market. Nintendo also understood the fundamental things that make a handheld desirable: light weight and battery life (and by extension, cost of ownership). The first GameBoy was hardly small but it wasn't quite the hog of its competitors - the later GameBoy Pocket was tiny and worked forever on a pair of AA's.
Each time sales of the GameBoy have shown any sign of slowing, Nintendo has either redesigned the system or launched a major marketing blitz to prop the system up again. The system's gone through several incarnations - the GameBoy, GameBoy Pocket, GameBoy Light (Japan-only), GameBoy Color, and now GameBoy Advance. In the late 1990's, the Pokemon phenomenon picked up where Tetris left off, turning into a major system seller of its own.
The GameBoy Advance is the first true hardware upgrade for the system since its release in 1989, with a fast 32-bit CPU that moves the handheld beyond the capabilities of the Super NES. With a 99% market share in handheld game systems, there are currently no plans by any major manufacturer to challenge the GameBoy's supremacy.