An Apple Game Boy?

With the help of a Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W and a bit of tinkering, this old iPod was transformed into an "Apple Game Boy."

Nick Bild
14 days agoRetro Tech
Running a Game Boy emulator in an old iPod case (📷: Russell Tabata)

Repurposing old electronics is a favorite pastime of hardware hackers. After all, just because an old device is no longer useful for its intended purpose does not mean that it would not be useful for some other purpose. A lot of portable electronics from the past 15 years or so have been replaced by the smartphones that we now all carry around, so there are a lot of GPS units, MP3 players, digital cameras, and more that are accumulating in thrift stores and landfills everywhere.

These once-hot items can now be had for pennies on the dollar (or by rifling through your spare parts drawers), so they are a great starting point for hobby projects. Russell Tabata happened to have an old iPod from 2004 laying around that had not seen any use for a very long time. The form factor of an iPod looks an awful lot like a handheld gaming system, so Tabata decided to turn it into a mash-up of classic Apple and Nintendo products. The result — an Apple Game Boy.

This is actually quite a simple thing to do. The open source Rockbox project provides custom firmware for a number of old digital music players, including many iPod models. And this firmware already includes a Game Boy emulator. Flash the firmware, and the job is done. Or at least that is one option, but it proved to be too dull of an option for Tabata. For that reason, and because he wanted to have the option to run additional emulators as well, he tore the iPod apart and completely gutted it.

Out with the old, and in with the new was the theme of this build. The internal components were replaced with a Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W and a Waveshare 320 x 240 pixel LCD display wired into its GPIO pins. Don’t worry — the click wheel remained functional by attaching the FPC cable to a breakout board that made it easy to connect it to the Raspberry Pi. A 350 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery was included to power the device, as well as an Adafruit PowerBoost 1000 Basic for charging.

A Raspberry Pi OS Lite image containing RetroPie was written to an SD card and inserted into the Raspberry Pi. Code from the existing ipodrpi project, which interfaces a click wheel with a Raspberry Pi, was slightly modified to increase the number of available buttons that can be used with the device. To finish off the build, a custom Apple Game Boy startup animation was created, which both Apple and Nintendo are sure to be thrilled about.

The result definitely looks great, and it is a nice way to reuse an old device — even if it is only the case that is being reused. It is hard to imagine that the gameplay experience is very good, however. Click wheels are great for navigating menus and controlling the playback of music, but were not really meant for gaming. There is just the single button in the middle, which is in an awkward position, and to simulate other button presses combinations are needed, like resting a finger on a particular segment of the wheel before clicking the button.

If you have a dead iPod, Tabata’s hack could be a great way to bring it back to life. But if your iPod is still humming along fine, you might be better off looking into Rockbox firmware.

Nick Bild
R&D, creativity, and building the next big thing you never knew you wanted are my specialties.
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