Nintendo won’t be quaking in its boots - not yet anyway
The glitter must only just be settling on Nokia's launch events for its N-Gage console/phone but we're not sure the experts' ideas of its chances have properly crystallized yet. Nokia - the gaming company? Maybe.
On Tuesday Nintendo made several announcements about its upcoming handheld and it is the Game Boy Advance that looms whenever Nokia's ambitions are mentioned. The Japanese gaming pioneer has sold a combined 120 million units since 1989 and doesn't want a newcomer to steal the one market it still dominates.
That said, Nokia is talking about new users. "We will expand the whole industry, not get into a market share fight," said the ever-determined Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia Mobile Phones executive VP.
And it certainly looks like the company is going after a different market. It is looking at a teenage demographic while Nintendo is known for aiming at six to 12-year-olds. (Oh to be in those focus groups.)
But sceptics point to a number of possible problems. True, an estimated 250 million of us have played Snake on our Nokias - and the Finnish vendor does very much see that as its ancient Declaration of Gaming Independence - but the company is inexperienced in gaming. Of course - Nokia acolytes will point out - it was in the same boat with mobile telephony in the 1980s.
The N-Gage device itself, assuming there won't be any major changes when it hits shelves around September or October, is very nice. It feels good, looks good and has features aplenty beyond gaming (FM radio, MP3 player, tri-band, MMS and so on). Key control may not be quite as good as a bespoke device but it's not aimed at six-year-olds.
But as one hack pointed out at the London launch, mobile phones will move on faster than N-Gage, potentially leaving users with old communications technology in a gaming device they can't throw away. Asked whether this means users will end up with two phones, the Nokia execs smile.
And then there's the big question of the opposition. It is at a moment like this that the teaming of Ericsson and Sony starts to look interesting. (And it's not like this column to be blindly optimistic about that pairing.) Can the PlayStation company and that rival 'next door' possibly put a spanner in the works? The answer may very well depend on whether Nokia can make a real go of this untested market first.
Analysts at Strand Consult in a note on N-Gage this week speak of "limited success" but also conclude: "[Even so], it will have a number of very positive side-effects with regard to showing mobile consumers that mobile phones are in the middle of a paradigm change."
That's positive for the industry but Nokia will have to wait until this time next year, post-Christmas buying, to see if it has a success, or even the right strategy.
And why should you have one? On top of everything else, Nokia's Vanjoki said: "We all have moments in the day when there's nothing to do. This is a fantastic way of wasting time - and it's healthier than smoking a cigar or drinking two litres of coffee."