The PlayStation Vita, originally known as the PSP 2, will officially launch next Wednesday... however there are reports of some being released into the wild early.
I can personally vouch.
With the release of Sony's second handheld device, let's look back at the other notable handheld gaming devices that have kept us either occupied and/or distracted.
In the early 1980's, we only had games like the Tiger electronic LCD handhelds or Matttel's Football. They were sold separately and only allowed one game on each to be played.
In 1989 though, things changed. Nintendo released a handheld that had interchangeable cartridges allowing for more than one game to be played on it. It was a technological leap since it basically had the processing power equivalent to 1983's Nintendo Entertainment System.
It was called the Game Boy.
The best selling game to ever grace the monochromatic, green-tinted screen was the classic Tetris (mostly because Nintendo had a promotion going on that included the game with the handheld) with over 30 Million cartridges sold.
Even 1998's World-changing Pokemon Red and Blue couldn't top that.
The one that came the closest to even denting the Game Boy's major market share was 1990's Sega Game Gear. It was basically a portable version of their current home console, the Master System, allowing for essentially the entire main game library to be played on the handheld. The major complaint was that it sucked batteries dry faster than you can buy them and put them in.
The Game Boy would enjoy market dominance until 1998, when the original Game Boy line would finally be phased out by it's successor, the Game Boy Color.
While essentially still a Game Boy of old, it allowed games to finally be played in glorious color! Say farewell to the monochrome and hello to glorious 15-bit colors.
Much like their home console business though, it failed to gather enough steam to get a good foothold in the American and European market. Its production was phased out when SNK was bought out by Aruze, a pachinko machine developer.
It was this generation of handheld that Pokemon finally reigned supreme, with both Ruby and Sapphire and Emerald topping the sales charts.
Two years later in 2003, phone-maker Nokia tried their hand at the handheld console market, releasing the N-Gage. The N-Gage would have one of the most ill-fated histories ever in the home console market. It never met any expectations, sales-wise or with the critics. Doubling as both a phone and a gaming device, the style and look failed aesthetically and buyers were turned off from the system. The lack of good games also killed any hope it had of being successful.
2004 would be a major year for the handheld industry, as both Nintendo and Sony would be releasing their handhelds (Sony's first) the same year.
In Sony's corner, they announced and released their PlayStation Portable. Harnessing the equivalent power of an original PlayStation, Sony had the PSP focus on more action-oriented games, allowing them to take away a portion of Nintendo's handheld audience, something no one had done before in the handheld market.
We now arrive to the current generation. Nintendo already released their current handheld: the 3DS, an upgraded DS that has the ability to project 3D-images without the need for 3D glasses. So far, it appears that the 3DS is actually failing to meet expectations. A price slash occurred late last year, as well as free games being given out to owners. Whether the poor sales have to do with the economy or the handheld itself (or even the handheld's gimmick of 3D without the need for glasses) is unknown.
Sony's PlayStation Vita, or PSV, or PSVita, or PSP2, is awaiting in the wings, ready to pounce on the 3DS' downtrodden status in the market. It boasts a massive technological leap, with the ability to produce graphics just about as good as Sony's main current console, the PlayStation 3. It also features a touch screen and rear touch pad.
It also meets the demands of the more hardcore gamers by featuring something most handhelds don't have: dual analog sticks for improved control.