What does Nokia’s N-Gage have anything to do with Google’s upcoming mobile operating system, Android? Well they both have been hyped a lot and are both supported by large global technology leaders. The biggest similarity is that they are both vying for that exclusive spot in your pocket and unless you happen to be one of those who carry two phones, there is room for only one even if you have multiple pockets.
Late last year, Nokia unveiled their newly rebranded “N-Gage” system for online mobile gaming and “Arena” community support. A lot of hype was tossed about and around on the various gaming blog sites like Joystiq.com and IGN.com to name a few. In theory, the idea seemed like a perfect strategy with a dedicated platform of gaming phones of all shapes and sizes on the so-so popular Symbian-based S60 OS. To back that up, a report in 2006 showed that roughly 80 million converged-devices (smart phones) were sold that year and a considerable chunk of that (67%) ran on the Symbian operating system on their phones compared to WindowsMobile (14%), RIM (Blackberry 7%), Linux (6%), and Palm (5%).
Types of Symbian Operating System
Those numbers look good until you realize that there are many variants of the Symbian operating system based on the type of user interface (UI) designed for the phones. Nokia’s UI are tagged with “Series” followed by a two-digit integer as a suffix. Among the 3 types of Nokia smartphone interfaces (note: the S40 is not a smartphone), the S60 is the more popular choice in relation to the decadent S80 and S90. Japan’s fancy schmancy cool phones run on NTT DoCoMo’s proprietary UI tagged as MOAP/FOMA “Mobile Orientated Applications Platform” and Sony Ericsson has their UIQ system. There are probably more but these are the major global players in the Symbian family.
Global Marketshare of Symbian OS
If we assume that the Nokia Series (60, 80, 90), UIQ, and MOAP are all equally represented in the 67% market share, that would mean that each of them have 22.33% of the market. Do note that this here is simply a false assumption because it is not taking into consideration the proliferation of Nokia handsets in this industry with respect to their other Symbian counterparts. However, due to time limitations and lack of sources, I have decided to go with a 50-50 split.
So for Nokia out of 22.33%, let us make another assumption using a 95% S60 dominance over S80 or S90 (since those 2 are nearly dead) and this leaves S60 with a still strong 21.21% overall global market share.
Within the S60, we have yet another subdivision with THREE generations aptly named – S60, S60 2nd Edition, S60 3rd Edition. Let us make yet another assumption that all 3 generations are equally distributed on this 21.21% plane which provides each edition of the S60 with a paltry 7.07% globally. The “3rd Edition” is the current/newest version out since late 2006.
The reason why I broke down the market share for S60 into three is because applications designed for either one of those editions are not compatible with the other. So basically, they can be considered as three separate mobile operating systems due to the lack of interoperability between them in terms of hardware or software.
Now you see that out of this 7.07%, the S60 3rd Edition can be broken down into (again) three sub-categories … the cheaper but functional devices (these are numbered for Nokia like the 6120 or 3rd party manufacturers like Samsung’s SGH-i550), the E-series (Nokia’s Enterprise/Business devices), and the top of the line multimedia N-Series. Applications between these devices are generally compatible depending on the application’s design (widescreen 320×240 or portrait 240×320) structure and use of certain hardware requirements like a GPS, accelerometer, cameras (front and rear), 3D GPU (Graphical Processing Unit – aka 3D Gfx card), etc.
The N-Gage Focus
Even with those tiny numbers, Nokia is only willing to put their “N-Gage” system on ONE out of the 3 sub-categories – the expensive line of N-Series handsets. What they mean to say is that the N-Gage will only be compatible on 3.36% of the global smart-phone industry. This is bad news in my opinion because it highlights the frailty of a system for which a lot of time, effort, and money were invested.
Like the new platform, the original N-Gage was also mutually exclusive (N-Gage and N-Gage QD) but on a smaller scale (N-Gage and N-Gage QD). The “unbreakable” games were cracked shortly after launch to run on all S60 (1st edition) handsets which made people realize that the N-Gage games were simply S60 games but of a higher quality and standard. The N-Gage games also offered added value like Bluetooth or online multiplayer gaming on their cell phones against people around all parts of the world. Unfortunately for Nokia, that project was doomed to fail due to the exclusivity of the product to just 2 phones and an already aged operating system as a backbone.
And if you thought the Espoo Finland-based giant learned from their mistakes, think again. They’re doing the same thing with the new N-Gage, only marketing it to their N-Series lineup and their decision to go Han Solo will once again undermine their chances of a global success in my opinion.
N-Gage Service or Nokia Phones?
Nokia is at a T-intersection and is using the “N-Gage Gaming” as an additional feature to market their N-series phones instead of the other way round. What we can take from that is the “N-Gage” is still NOT a focus for Nokia. They are still in the business of selling their “Nokia” branded phones which is fine by me but that focused-strategy is dragging the N-Gage into the same hole it was looking to crawl out from. They are not willing to create a separate enterprise (aka Global N-Gage System), rather they are preferring to go with a lackluster one-console approach in the same vein as the failed original N-Gage.
Recommendations for the N-Gage
With all the rumors nowadays of the Sony Playstation Phone and the Nintendo Phone, the best way to negate those possibilities is to work with your rivals. A cross-platform N-Gage Arena experience (hint: UIQ, S60, MOAP) would help the “N-Gage” division thanks to a much global exposure from the synergies created by working with rivals like Sony.
The N-Gage is a software like the S60 and should be allowed to perform on multiple platforms. By sharing their proprietary online gaming system on all Symbian phones, the biggest gaming leaders like Nintendo and Sony could integrate the system into their phone OS like the MOAP and UIQ thus providing legitimacy to the N-Gage application. The combined experience of Nokia, Sony, and Nintendo in the communications and gaming industry would only benefit Nokia’s N-Gage.
So does Nokia want the N-Gage to fare better this time around? We would hope yes because of all the money poured into the program but it seems like they’re doing a half-assed job of it.
If they are so worried about a cross platform N-Gage system stealing sales of their phones to other handset makers like SonyEricsson (why buy a Nokia to play games online if you can do the same on a SonyEricsson), my recommendation for them is to work on promoting their core competencies – excellent hardware support, sturdy product build and reliability, up-to-date fashion design cues, and quality “multimedia” handsets. Those are the reasons people bought Nokias and still continue to do so.
They don’t have to go all out with ALL SYMBIAN interoperability for the N-Gage for now but I highly recommend pushing it out to all S60 3rd Edition devices. The difference between the regular S60, an E-series, and the N-series should be:
1. The regular models will be wimpy in hardware specs (smaller screens, no GPS, no 3D cards, etc) but cheaper.
2. The E-series will be similar to the N-series but will lack prepackaged multimedia applications. Less power could be a way to make this cheaper.
3. The N-series will feature a slew of free prepackaged apps and additional hardware pluses like 3D cards and GPS.
I’m not saying the Finnish masters haven’t done their research but from a strictly consumer’s point of view, those are my opinions.
Can Nokia’s N-Gage engage Google’s Android?
From what we know above, the answer is a resounding NO. There is simply no incentive to use a Nokia phone if the best features are reserved for the most expensive devices. For a product that requires mass appeal, the N-Gage’s limited product-line (software/hardware) hinders growth in the market while Google’s mobile operating system will feature on different sets of hardware (phone) manufacturers. Android also has this cooler looking interface and I guess we’ll have to wait and see but a storm is coming…