April 14, 2004 6:30 AM PDT

Nokia updates N-Gage game player

Cell phone giant Nokia announced on Wednesday the first major revamp of its N-Gage game player, addressing many of the design and business issues that have limited sales of the current version.

Nokia's N-Gage QD

The N-Gage QD is about 20 percent smaller than the original and has been redesigned for more comfortable use as a cell phone. One version is set to go on sale in May in Europe, Asia and Africa, and a second in late June in the Americas. It is expected to sell for $199.

Nokia introduced the N-Gage last year as a high-end multifunction device with basic cell phone functions, advanced graphics for games and a built-in MP3 player.

The device met with wide-ranging criticism and consumer apathy, however, and Nokia executives have acknowledged that sales have been at the low end of expectations.

Criticisms have focused on the device's physical design, which forces users to hold the N-Gage on edge to use it as a cell phone and to remove the battery to swap out game cartridges. The new QD has its speaker and microphone mounted on the front, so it's held flat when used as a cell phone. It also has an easy-to-reach multimedia card slot for game cartridges.

"We've gotten a lot of learning with the N-Gage over the last few months," said Nada Usina, general manager of entertainment media for Nokia's American division. "We took that feedback from consumers and really worked to address those concerns."

The current N-Gage also has been rapped for offering few games that exploit the device's connectivity options--only three games currently offer multiplayer connections via GSM phone connection. Usina said Nokia expects to have 50 new N-Gage titles on the market by the end of this year, 75 percent of which will offer multiplayer sessions via the N-Gage Arena service.

Nokia will also beef up its retail presence with the N-Gage QD, for the first time offering the device through cell phone carriers. Current distribution focuses on specialty video game retailers and big-box electronics outlets.

Usina said it has been difficult to find the right combination of retail exposure to ensure steady sales of handsets, service plans and game software. "All the dynamics of the mobile phone space and the game space come into play," she said.

The June launch gives Nokia several months to boost consumer interest in the N-Gage before Sony attempts to grab a chunk of the handheld game market with its heavily anticipated PlayStation Portable device.

 

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