The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

N-GAGE 2.0
Take a good gander at the above gadget, because it's about to become a vintage model. Nokia's N-Gage, the game-centric mobile phone, has thudded so badly in the marketplace that the company's launched a redesigned (and cheaper) version, the QD GameDeck.
The major complaint about the original N-Gage was that users had to remove the battery to swap games. The upgraded device has an external hot-swappable MMC slot that automatically starts up the game when you plug it in, says Nada Usina, general manager of Nokia's gaming business unit.
It's simply stunning how these fundamental industrial design flaws make it to market. Nokia's far from the only one; it's an epidemic, especially in electronics. You hear about these companies spending loads of money on product testing, but I wonder if they really do, or if they do and simply disregard it. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that no one wants to remove a cellphone battery if they can help it: It's a pain to do, and it tends to screw up your phone's settings.

Aside from the acknowledgement that the original bombed, this redesign is also a signal that the concept behind the N-Gage is probably too far ahead of its time to be truly successful. I don't know how this plays globally, but it seems that in the U.S., there's a maddening attitude that phones and game devices should fundamentally be separate. The feeling is that, if you really want to play games, you should get a GameBoy (or an Xbox or PS2). While this makes a certain amount of sense, I think this is an idiotic argument. No, your mobile phone probably shouldn't primarily be a game console. But yes, there's plenty of room on the average handset to use it for games, and there's nothing wrong with making those games a design consideration. I know that when I'm sizing up phones for personal use, the games that come with them (or are capable of being added) factor into my purchase.