The Zodiac is a handheld from the American company Tapwave. It was announced and introduced in October 2003 (Silver model-C1). However, both the Zodiac and Tapwave were short-lived and forgotten. In 2005, Tapwave was declared bankrupt, which also ended sales and support for the handheld, of which around 200,000 were eventually sold. Just like the N-gage and the Gizmondo, the Zodiac is considered one of the biggest handheld failures of the early 2000s.
The US company Tapwave was founded in 2001 by Peng Lim and Byron Connell, two former Palm executives. Other Palm specialists such as Marian Cauwet and David Wenning joined Tapwave, whose first product was code-named Helix. The connection with Palm was reflected, among other things, in the operating system used; the Zodiac ran on a customized version of Palm OS 5.2T.
An operating system that was already known to users of PDAs. However, PDAs were generally not aimed at gamers. Still, many people already played games on their PDAs, although these devices were often insufficiently powerful to run extensive and beautiful game worlds on them. This resulted in the fact that normally the most played games on PDA’s were puzzle games and card games.
The founders of Tapwave believed that there was enough interest to play realistic games on a PDA. With this in mind, they tried to reach a different target group than the handheld-king of that time, the Game Boy Advance. Nintendo’s handheld was aimed at young gamers and had no multimedia capabilities. Tapwave tried to appeal to a more mature audience (aged 18-34) with its Zodiac. A target group that was already familiar with the use of PDAs and wanted to use the same device for gaming, work and multimedia purposes. Also, an audience with more money to spend. Tapwave even stated: ‘The Zodiac is for people who outgrown a Game Boy and need a device that can help organize their life’.
This was reflected in the build quality of the device. The Zodiac is made of silver or black aluminum, while the GBA (and later handhelds such as the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP) were made of plastic. However, the luxurious materials have not been implemented consistently throughout the device. The shoulder buttons in particular are of poor quality. They are made of plastic with a kind of rubbery feel that resembles the rubber finish of the Gizmondo. The shoulder buttons quickly break or dry out and then fall apart into small pieces. There are almost no Zodiacs to be found today with these buttons still intact.
Specs and models
The Zodiac console was an extremely powerful PDA, and a modesty powerful handheld. It had a Motorola i/MX1 ARMi9 processor working on 200 MHz and an ATI Imageon W4200 2D GPU. The display was 3.8 inches with a 480×320 resolution. A major downside was its lack of built-in Wi-Fi.
Very uncommon for a PDA was the analog controller (or joystick) with 360 degrees of motion, built-in triggers and action button array similar to other gaming consoles.
The Zodiac was initially available in two models, Zodiac 1 (32MB) for $299, and Zodiac 2 (128MB) for $399. Except for the storage, both handhelds were the same. The Zodiac struggled with distribution. The first few months, the console was only sold in via the website of Tapwave. After that, sales remained glacially slow. Even when it started being sold in stores like CompUSA.
To appeal to a more mature audience, Tapwave wanted more mature games for the Zodiac. The company attracted several third-party developers who developed games for handheld. A number of popular games were ported for the handheld, including Doom II and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. Also, special versions of well-known franchises were developed for the Zodiac, such as Duke Nukem Mobile. Many of these games were, however, also available for the much cheaper GBA.
Before the introduction of the Zodiac, Tapwave stated that up to 1200 games were developed for the handheld. However, many games were cancelled before they were released because of the slow sales of the handheld and upcoming, more promising handhelds, from competitors. The games that did come out were mostly of mediocre quality.
The Zodiac is also a Palm OS 5-compatible device, and most software compatible with Palm OS 5 runs without issue. In particular, most Palm OS 5-compatible games play on the Zodiac. Tapwave also provided proprietary APIs to allow developers to take advantage of the Zodiac’s graphics and sound hardware.
The Zodiac handheld received a strong buzz around its introduction and also positive reviews, including many industry awards. This could not prevent it from being short-lived. Due to insufficient funding and strong competitive pressure from the PSP (2005) and Nintendo DS (2004), Tapwave only sold 200,000 devices. In addition, the games of the Tapwave were not sufficiently distinctive and qualitative to compete against the handhelds from the well-known Japanese companies. The dedicated PDA-marked was also at the beginning of its decline in favor of hybrid devices, with which you could also make phone calls. Devices known as Mobile Digital Assistants (MDAs) which would later evolve into the modern-day smartphone.
|CPU||Motorola i.MX-1 ARM 9 @ 200 Mhz.|
|GPU||Ati Imageon W4200 (8mb SDRAM)|
|Display||3.8 inch 480 x 320, 16-bit color backlit display (65,536 colors)|
|RAM||10 MB dedicated to the System|
|Operating System||Palm OS 5.2T (customized)|
|Dimensions||5.6 in × 3.1 in × 0.55 in (142 mm × 79 mm × 14 mm), 6.3 oz|