Last week, on March 11 2021, Lou Ottons passed away at the age of 94. This Dutch inventor worked for decades as ‘Head of product Development’ at Philips. Under his leadership, products such as the cassette tape and the CD were developed, which in both cases sold billions. Products that also served as predecessors and examples for the DVD and Blue-ray, both of which were also co-developed by Philips. These are products that changed the world and pushed Philips to be on the forefront of technology. Philips was known for its innovation for a long time and had extensive R&D departments, including the predecessor of the High Tech Campus, the well-known Natuurkundig laboratorium (NatLab).
Philips also had experience in the field of gaming, although the company had not been entirely successful in the past. The Videopac platform of the late 70’s and early 80’s had already passed away and its CD-i players introduced in the early 90’s did not achieve the success it was hoped for. During the mid-1990s the question remained to what extent there was still a future for Philips in the gaming segment.
PDA for girls
The mid 90’s were a time when PDA’s created a new and interesting market segment. Just then, around 1995, the Chief Design Officer of Philips, Stefano Marzano, decided to investigate the possibilities of developing a PDA style handheld for a very specific target group, namely girls between 4-12 years old. Technology and gaming products were often aimed specifically at boys and subsequently girls and were largely overlooked. In this pre-smart phone era, Marzano did not simply want to repaint an existing gaming handheld in pink, but envisioned a tailor-made device with which girls could communicate with each other, run educational software, play games, keep a diary and contact list, and to make -and share drawings. In addition, he wanted to open the possibility for first and third party cartridges to appear on the market to expand the possibilities of the device. The product he envisioned was ahead of its time. It had a touch screen, communication options via infrared and a smart card reader to use the aforementioned cartridges.
Under the name ‘Kidcom’, a project was started to realize the Marzano’s idea. The first prototype of the in2it was the result of this project and it was extensively tested among target groups of girls in international schools in the Netherlands. The participants were asked to indicate what they thought of the product and to provide ideas to enhance the prototype. As with every try-out the ultimate goal was to determine whether the product was well received and, if so, where it still needed to be refined.
In 1996, Philips had finalised the product and a few hundreds (max a thousand) units were made for internal testing and as preview kit’s for the media. But at the time the In2it was ready to be launched, doubts also began to arise about the intended success of the device. First of all, the Philips CD-i didn’t have the success Philips hoped for. The company ran a very aggressive marketing campaign, but the system was not well received due to the high price of the CD-i players, poor quality of many games, limited CPU- and GPU power and increasing competition on the gaming market. The second problem was with the In2it itself. The unit was quite big and the lack of back light, made the device hard to use. It is fair to say, on the basis of my own experience, that the product is even useless in a dark environment.
But the biggest concern was the market segment. The device was mainly developed as a multipurpose communicator/PDA and gaming device for girls, a market that had not yet proven itself. The in2it was, of course, able to play games and Philips also introduced other girls-oriented cards about for example boy bands from the 90’s, taking care of horses, and astrology, but the prospect wasn’t good. The limited software content developed at the time by Philips and the reluctance of third party developers to embrace the platform didn’t convince top management that the product could be profitable. Probably bearing in mind that limited software availability at the time also plagued the declining CD-I. Even if more software was developed, for example by opening SDK to third party developers, the recently released and struggling Casio Loopy proved that the market wasn’t ready for video game devices aimed exclusively towards girls. At least it seemed so. Together with the fact that the chips used in the in2it were running low and were not more produced led to the discontinuation of the handheld before it even hit the shelves.
Eventually Philips’ new CEO Jan Timmer startet to shrink down the divers electronics portfolio of the company around 1996, much like Steve Jobs did after he returned to Apple. Timmer’s cleaning operation resulted in the end of not only the in2it but also the CD-i. It would mark the end of Philips in the gaming market.
In the end, the in2it-project was canceled. The few hundreds of prototypes of the in2it that were produced were sold internally and lent for research projects at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering of the Helsinki University of Technology. Ironically, the Tamagotchi of Bandai saw the light of day almost simultaneously. A technically limited handheld for girls that made it possible to care for and raise an electronic pet. This device became a worldwide fad with 40 million units sold and proved that this marked segment could certainly be a real success. For the Philips in2it, however, this realization came as an after-meal mustard. The device was never officially launched.
|Lifespan||1996 (no official released)|
|Units||few hundereds (pre-production model)|
|Predecessor||Philips CD-i 370|
The cards of the In2it look like old telephone cards. A total of 16 cards were developed for the prototype. The set included 6 Basic cards that are used for storage and operation of the console, 9 program/game cartridges and 1 promotional program.