Playdate - a new handheld console by Panic

Posted on in tech.

A press shot of the Playdate (© Panic).

This week Panic announced Playdate, a quirky new yellow handheld console with a black and white screen and a crank. It’s wonderfully bizarre, and I want to order one ASAP.

For long-time Apple users in the web and design sector Panic probably doesn’t need an introduction anymore: they created a host of great apps, like Transmit (an FTP client), Coda (a web development app) and Prompt (an SSH client for iOS). They’ve also published the excellent game Firewatch and will release Untitled Goose Game somewhere this year (really looking forward to that one!).

With Playdate, however, they’re finding themselves out of their usual software expertise and created a hardware device that totally goes against the grain, and I love it for that:

  • It’s tiny (you can view a model in Augmented Reality on their media page if you’re on an iOS device)
  • It has a black and white screen (not greyscale) with a low resolution of 400x240 pixels and no backlight
  • It doesn’t have big-name games announced for it, and it probably won’t in the future
  • There are just 12 games announced, and they will be released week by week
  • It has just a few buttons (and a cute crank) for controls
  • In fact, it doesn’t even run Android or Linux, Panic created their own operating system specifically for this device.
A 3D model of a Playdate in Augmented Reality, next to a Nintendo Switch for scale.

It’s fun and weird and I think it’s great that the Playdate forces developers to be creative by the lack of tons of buttons (or a touch screen) and a fairly limiting screen. It reminds me a bit of the original Game Boy, where the original launch games were short and simplistic (like Super Mario Land, Alleway and, of course, Tetris), but after some time developers started to work with these limitations to create ambitious adventures like The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Pokémon Gold/Silver. I’m hopeful that developers will see these limitations as opportunities to create something new and fresh, and I’m excited to see it play out when it launches somewhere next year.