N-Gage: What a Disaster


I could bitch so long and hard about the flaws on the N-Gage, but I don't know if there's any real reason. Everyone's just trashed it so much, but there's so many areas where just small touches could have made the platform that much better, but it just seems completely rushed to market.

For example (well, here I go): When you boot the phone up, you get the welcome animation which has been changed from the Divinci-like hands shaking to an N-Gage logo with an electric pulse passing through it. That's good. But then that's where it stops! After that you're in the basic Series 60 phone screen. If you want to play a game you need to click the menu screen, which takes you from the multi-colored-on-black background to the regular S60 menu which are the boring icons on white. Then you have to thumb down through these standard icons and folders to the last one (which is "past the fold") and that's the game that's installed.

This doesn't make any sense! For a phone, the main screen with the background is great, but for a game system you should go right into the menu, and the menu should be *really* simple. Nokia could have easily installed a memory-resident app that launches when the phone does - just like the Handy Day app - to take over the "home" screen and present the user with options. But they didn't bother and instead force a game player to hunt for his game. Additionally, the icons are all the same as on the regular phone as are the screen colors. *Why*?

These things could've and should've been easily touched up. We're talking a lot of return for little effort on Nokia's part to improve the usability and presentation of their product. There's no excuse for this lack of attention to detail. If they didn't have the bandwidth, they could've given one of the burgeoning independant Series 60 developers out there .0001% of the cash they spent on marketing this monstrousity to develop it and it would've helped immensely.

There's *lots* of other problems that I won't enumerate, but this example really sums up the whole product. They took the *exact* same OS and hardware that's in the 3650, spun it around and are trying to pass it off as a next generation game console. I mean, no "flight-mode"? No MP3 support? Are they kidding? Hey, at least it has flight mode and MP3 support (that I missed the first time around), but I'm a phone geek and all I keep doing is shaking my head at how shoddily slapped together this thing is. I should've been the #1 fan of this phone. Have you all seen me wax lyrically about my GameBoy Advance? Yes. And my Nokia 3650? Yes. So even if *all* the other people in the world though this thing sucked, at least I should've been happy, and I'm not.

It's easy to have 20/20 hind-sight, but it's really obvious to me now that Nokia blew it by reaching too far with this device. If they had launched a new S60 phone that allowed a joystick add on like those Samsung models, and then made an effort to launch high-end, quality MMC-based games they would've had a home run. Why? Because if you are playing Tomb Raider and you think to yourself "This is running on a phone!" you are *amazed*. But if you're playing it on your next-gen portable game console you think, "Nice game, but it's been around forever and the joypad isn't as good as an analog one and the menuing system is confusing and why isn't there any music and the shadows are bit too dark to see, and the screen is vertical and not horizontal which really restricts gameplay and damn, why do I keep hitting the radio by accident and I can't believe I just got *another* low memory error!" or something like that.

I forsee a retreat and retrenchment on Nokia's part. This is what I predict: N-Gage the device will become "N-Gage compatible" the logo on future phones. In other words, I predict that within 6 months we'll see a phone from Nokia that can run N-Gage based cards. The investment in marketing and subsidies to game-makers will be spread out across the new devices and the disaster that is the N-Gage device will be de-emphasized in a big way. This could be a winning strategy, since which phone are you going to buy, the one that plays wimpy Java games, or the one with all the cool peripherals you can buy like 3D game cards and snap-on Joypads? They would also be smart to "license" the N-Gage capability to other S60 licensees as well. Imagine what Panasonic or Siemens could do with it?

The N-Gage is already a disaster in sales. I'm sure that wacky Palm-based Zodiac is going to sell just as many or more than the N-Gage by the simple fact that it truly *is* a next generation handheld console, and aren't trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes. When the Sony PSP arrives - or even months before as the wait begins, it'll scorch the earth for any other handhelds out there. Nokia, however, could still win the portable gaming wars by making sure that it has cool-ass 3D multiplayer games available on millions of handsets already. But in order to win the war, Nokia needs to first lose a battle and make a complete retreat now. Drop kick the N-Gage yet, convert all that money on brand-building and awareness into a massive win for new "N-Gage capable" phones. Sell a zillion of them and make a bundle off of licensing to other S60 manufacturers and peripheral creators. Then suddenly there'll be little oxygen left out there for Sony to use when it launches its console and ends up only attracting "high-end gamers"

That's just my thoughts (and honestly, some of my fervent wishes). I hope someone back in Nokia HQ has a clue and some guts and works it out. It'd be a New Coke style recovery it they could manage it.


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