It’s pretty funny that a console named Playdate keeps pushing its own launch date back, but Panic’s tiny handheld indie game device is now getting pushed back to 2022 (and potentially even further beyond). This marks its third delay since it was first announced in 2019, as the console's already missed its 2020 release window and pushed its first pre-order window back from early 2021 to July 2021.
In a link included with an email sent earlier today to those who pre-ordered the Playdate, Panic said that units which were supposed to ship out in late 2021 will now reach customers in early 2022. This stems from decisions to swap to a new battery supplier, even for models that were already in Panic’s hands, plus redesign the main board to work with a new CPU.
Hi! If you've pre-ordered a Playdate, check your email for a copy of the "Playdate Owner's Update #1".There's bad news (a battery tragedy means Late 2021 units are now Early 2022, see email for your timing) but also good news (Pulp+SDK release dates!!)Thanks for reading it. pic.twitter.com/03BUolZetYNovember 11, 2021
According to Panic, the battery swap was necessary not just because battery life wasn’t living up to its expectations, but also because some batteries were so faulty that the device wouldn’t charge or turn on even when connected to power. The decision to change the CPU and adjust the main board stems from the ongoing global chip shortage, as Panic’s Malaysian factory told the company it wouldn’t be able to supply the Arm Cortex M7 for another two years.
Panic hasn’t said how exactly it’s changed the Playdate’s main board or which CPU it’s planning to use in place of the Cortex M7. A promise that “[y]ou won’t notice anything different about this new board revision when it comes to playing games— functionally it will be the same ” is all we have to go on, for now.
The battery and the CPU also aren’t the only parts Panic is having trouble sourcing, the company said in its announcement, setting appropriate expectations in case of a need for further delays. “We will do everything we can to make as many Playdates as we can for you,” Panic’s email stated.
If you’ve somehow avoided hearing about this combination of a Raspberry Pi, a Game Boy, a subscription service and a Jack in the box until now, the Playdate is set to be a small, open, black-and-white handheld from indie game studio Panic and Swedish electronics designer Teenage Engineering. It’s got a 1-bit black-and-white screen, two buttons, a single directional pad and, most noticeably, a crank (for novel control options, not for power). Up until now, it was also going to run on an Arm Cortex M7 CPU and boast specs somewhere in between a Raspberry Pi Pico and a Raspberry Pi Zero W, but today’s announcement changes that up a bit.
Despite boasting a rather hefty $179 price tag for its modest specs, the Playdate’s generated quite a bit of hype since it was announced, selling 20,000 units in its first pre-order batch, which makes the repeated delays all the more concerning. This hype comes not just from promises that players will be able to freely sideload their own games and apps onto the Playdate without restriction, or from Panic’s commitment to let every single Playdate also work as a devkit. It also comes from what’s looking to be a strong software library, as each Playdate purchase is set to come with free access to entire seasons of games, updated over Wi-Fi twice a week, from known indie devs like Bennett Foddy and Zach Gage.
Here’s hoping that these delays don’t put any strains on Panic’s relationship with its stable of developers, or else that $179 price tag will start to look a lot less worth it.
On the plus side, if you’ve already ordered a Playdate, then you don’t need to worry about your place in the queue changing. “You will keep your place in line as long as your pre-order is active,” says Panic.
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Michelle Ehrhardt is an editor at Tom's Hardware. She's been following tech since her family got a Gateway running Windows 95, and is now on her third custom-built system. Her work has been published in publications like Paste, The Atlantic, and Kill Screen, just to name a few. She also holds a master's degree in game design from NYU.