It's exactly because they were color displays.
There was no technology that allowed usable unlit color displays at the time. Reflective color LCDs have less than 1/3rd the contrast ratio of equivalent black and white displays. LCD contrast ratios were really low until the mid-90s.
Thank you! I've brought this up several times on both AtariAge and Sega-16, and no one provided that answer before.
So backlit LCD displays had higher contrast ratios than reflective ones?
That still doesn't entirely kill the idea of a later redesign using a reflective screen. (though if they were still too expensive by '94/95 it didn't too much matter as Atari Corp didn't last past that and Sega decided to drop the Game Gear in late '95 -along with pretty much everything but the Saturn -in terms of first party software support)
Of course, there's also the extremely expensive active color LCD display NEC used for the Turbo Express (PC Engine GT), but that's another issue. (that was the ultimate deluxe portable console -a full fledged, full resolution 4th generation home console put into a handheld with a very high-end screen)
Look at the Game Boy Color -- unlit, came out 9 years later than the Lynx, with LCD technology that was 4 generations improved. Still, it's very difficult for a lot of people to play in ordinary lighting conditions.
I actually never had trouble with that except in rather dim conditions (still playable even then), the GBA screen wasn't any better as far as I can see, and both were rather similar to the GBP (and better than the original GB in terms of clarity and motion blur -though not battery life)
However, backlit screens suffer the opposite problems they excel in dim conditions, but become very hard to see in bright conditions, especially outside (ie at school, after school -waiting for the ride home- or in a car on a bright day -etc). I've honestly had more problems with that than with reflective screens. (the main problem for reflective color screens is that the colors are off with the gray/silver reflective layer -if you could use a near white reflective layer, it might work better)
That's true for modern handheld game systems (or phones, etc) too, rather like older LED numeric displays (watches, 2-way radios, etc) vs reflective LCD numeric displays. (and now going back again with backlit LCD displays on cell phones -I have to cup my hand over the display on my cell phone to see it outside)
It's hard to tell if Nintendo succeeded despite the black and white screen or because of it. It definitely gave them a smaller form factor, lower cost, and long battery life. But I don't think those reasons were as important as Nintendo's great games and great marketing.
I feel like it's just one of those times where killer games and marketing allowed Nintendo to win despite it's technology handicap.
yeah, at least compared to Atari for the games/marketing, Sega had the marketing and (for the most part) the games, though they were 2 years late to the game and with similar disadvantages to the lynx. (more expensive than the Lynx by that point, I believe) Still, Sega was probably the biggest competitor (worldwide) to nintendo's handheld lines prior to the PSP. (of course, Sega dropped it in '95/96 -not formally discontinued, but halting software support and advertising, later handing off distribution to Majesco)
Sega had the added advantage of an existing library of Master system games that were simple to port to the GG due to the nearly identical architecture (just the screen viewing area and color palette changed -the former meaning that some ports felt a bit cramped compared to the SMS versions), and doing so wouldn't have really menat recycling games to the Japanese or North American markets for most people, as the Master System wasn't very popular ther. Not only that, but they could continue cross-platform SMS/GG games for the European and South American markets where the SMS was still popular. (apparently the GG didn't do very well in Europe, even in Sega friendly countries like the UK -where the Lynx seems to have been more successful)
So for that case, it's the cost, bulk, and battery life, plus the 2 year lead for the Game Boy.
At least the Lynx was taken fairly seriously by reviewers and developers, if not the public. I think this was exactly BECAUSE it had a big technical advantage over the Game Boy. If Atari only had a crippled black and white Game Boy-like system, why bother targeting it (as a developer) or buying it (as a user)?
Yeah, well except for cases where brand loyalty applied, perhaps with some remaining Atari/Arcade fans in the US (indeed the Lynx did have an advantage for arcade games, generally speaking) plus brand loyalty in some Atari Friendly regions, again, the UK.
Some of those other issues didn't so much apply to Sega except very near to the GG's launch. (that and they continued to stay only modestly popular in Japan) Sega might have had a chance to compete on a more direct cost/size/battery life level later on, but again they'd cut it by '96. (but that's another topic anyway)
The only other thing was an unnecessarily bulky design apparently due to responses from consumer study groups waning "more" for their money. (like the 5200 all over again, except now they listened to the study groups but still had a similar outcome) Supposedly there's a ton of empty space inside the Lynx, but given that the Lynx II is on;y moderately smaller, and the GG is still a fair bit smaller than that, but perhaps the Lynx II still had a fair amount of empty space.
Then there were extra features, probably not really that necessary like the left/right hand modes (if that added noticeable cost, it probably wasn't worth it -left/right handed people tended to conform to the same gameplay layout on consoles, regardless, so that may have made it a bit of a moot point, though Gravis did that too).
There was the one technical issue left over from the originally intended casette media, with games having to run from RAM only, loading data from ROM. (I wonder if cutting ram in 1/2 and mapping the cartridge slot directly to 32 kB of main address space would have been a good idea: that would limit work RAM to 16 kB with a double buffered display -but you could then work from ROM as well. (having an onboard bank selection scheme to expand address space would have been preferable, allowing the full 64 kB of DRAM to stay -though removing that would cut a little cost) Perhaps there were other reasons it wasn't redesigned before release. (iirc it had been planned to release earlier, but was delayed)