It is believed to be as early as 1985 when the idea for the world's first colour handheld portable console came about. By 1987, engineers at Epyx, who conceived the idea, had named the system "Handy". Two of these engineers, Dave Needle and R.J. Mical, were also members of the original Amiga design team.
The new system was first shown to industry insiders at Winter CES in January 1989. After running into some financial problems, Epyx could not produce the system on their own and so they decided to enlist the help of another company. Invitations were sent to numerous companies in the hopes of getting a partnership to produce the system. One of these companies was Nintendo, who passed. Atari was also sent an invitation and, needing a way to re-enter the market, they accepted. An agreement was reached where Atari would produce and market the system while Epyx would take care of software development.
The system was again shown at CES, this time in the Summer of 1989, and with the name "Atari Portable Color Entertainment System", which was later changed to "Lynx". Also announced in the same year was the Nintendo GameBoy which would create tough competition for the Lynx, even though the Lynx was more powerful and had a backlit colour screen. The GameBoy only had a black & white screen, however, it was lighter, smaller and used less battery power. But probably the main edge that the GameBoy had over the Lynx was the price. The GameBoy was announced at a price of US$109 while the Lynx was US$90 more at US$199. Both systems were released by the end of the year, in time for Christmas. Due to the larger quantities of GameBoy consoles produced, the system was more readily available, while the Lynx only had limited quantities and often sold out, meaning Atari lost many potential customers. As a result, the GameBoy became the more popular choice over the holiday season.