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 of times. Products that also served as examples for the DVD and Blue-ray, which was also co-developed by Philips. They are products that changed the world and pushed Philips into the technological momentum of the nations. 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 already 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 was to what extent there was still a future for Philips in gaming.
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 girls and were largely overlooked. In this pre-smart phone era, Marzano did not simply want to develop a gaming handheld in bright colours, but envisioned a device that girls could use to communicate with each other, run educational software, play games, keep a diary and contact list, and to make and share drawings. In addition, he had the idea that cartridges would appear on the market to expand the possibilities of the device. The product was far 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 make a IT-products for kids. 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 ultimate goal was to determine whether the product was successful 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 device is, 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, astrology. But it was no avail. The limited 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 viable. 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 didn’t was ready for video game devices aimed exclusively towards girl. 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.
In the end, the 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 realisation 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.