In the early 2000s, gamers were increasingly carrying around both a mobile phone and a Game Boy, the most popular handheld game system. Nokia spotted an opportunity to combine these devices into a more handy unit. They developed and created the N-Gage, a device that included both. Instead of using cables, multiplayer was done with Bluetooth or the Internet (via the N-Gage Arena service). The N-Gage also included MP3 and Real Audio/Video playback and PDA-like features into the system.
The N-Gage has not been as commercially popular as Nokia estimated. The poor sales performance can be attributed to the poor selection of games compared to its competitors and its cost at launch; it was more than twice as expensive as a Game Boy Advance SP on release day. Poor sales were also amplified by game media being standard MMC memory cards without any hardware mechanisms to prevent piracy, indeed rival firms boasted that the N-Gage's games could be played just as easily on their phones.
Besides its gaming capabilities, the N-Gage is a Series 60 phone, running Symbian OS 6.1, with features similar to those of the Nokia 3650 (it does not have an integrated camera, however). It is able to run all Series 60 software, and Java MIDP applications as well. Its main CPU is an ARM Integrated (ARMI) compatible chip (ARM4T architecture) running at 104 MHz, the same as the Nokia 7650 and 3650 phones.
The original N-Gage was heavily criticized for its clumsy design: to insert a game, users must remove the phone's plastic cover and remove the battery compartment as the game slot was behind it. Also, the speaker was on the side edge of the phone, resulting in many gamers mocking it as talking into a "taco phone" or "sidetalking." Its comfort for longer calls has been criticized. The sidetalking is there for a practical reason: if placed elsewhere, the screen would get in contact with the cheek and become smudged. However, almost all other cell phones have the screen against the cheek when the user is talking. Despite the practicality (which was not apparent), gamers still were unwilling to talk in such an awkward manner.
In the gaming realm, the N-Gage was also criticized for its vertical screen and the poor selection of games.
In addition to its problems as a game system, it also faced problems as a cell phone. Besides the clumsy form factor, it was initially sold primarily through specialty game outlets instead of through cell phone providers, which only called attention to its high pre-subsidy price, lack of games, and clumsy interface compared to other gaming devices (thanks to the Series 60 interface and unusual face button layout). Once cellphone retail outlets started carrying the phone, which wouldn't become a widespread practice until well after the release of the N-Gage QD, it still faced problems. The N-Gage and its successor, the N-Gage QD, worked only on GSM networks, meaning that it was (and still is) incompatible with the then-largest US cell service provider, Verizon Wireless, as well as all of Japan's cell networks (which did much to cut off any significant Japanese developer support.)
The original N-Gage though still has many benefits to developers and end-users. It currently has the largest amount of executable RAM memory of any Series 60 device; it has MP3 decoding in a dedicated hardware chip (all other Series 60 devices, including the N-Gage QD, rely on software decoding); it has stereo output from a standard 2.5mm jack plug; and it can be mounted as a USB Mass Storage device on any compatible computer without requiring the Nokia PC Connect software.
The N-Gage QD is Nokia's successor to the N-Gage. It revises the device's physical design, being smaller and rounder, with a more convenient cartridge slot on the bottom of the device and the speaker and microphone on the flat side of the device so that calls may be made like a traditional phone. However, its rubber fitting side (that closes the gap between the device top and bottom casing) can be easily loosened over a few months if it is dropped regularly. Consequently, the device is more vulnerable to water or particles into the internals unless a new fitting is replaced. The fitting is only available at the Nokia's service centers and is not sold on the retail market. There are imported 3rd party rubber fittings available, but they are no less expensive than their Nokia counterparts.
The device retails at a lower price, further aided by the fact that it is generally sold with a pre-paid cell phone service contract and the corresponding subsidy. In the United States, the N-Gage QD was available as a prepaid phone offered by Cingular for $99.99 at retail games stores such as Electronics Boutique and GameStop. This is no longer the case as stores have discontinued carrying the QD. There are still N-gage QDs still available here and there where old stock is still left.
MP3 playback, FM radio reception, and USB connectivity options have all been removed, presumably to cut size and cost. The QD does not support MP3 internally; however, it can still play MP3s with third-party software, albeit only in 16 kHz mono (For comparison, CD quality is 44 kHz stereo). The audio output is a Nokia mono earpiece (with microphone) instead.
Furthermore, the device graphical interface is mostly "Orange-and-grey" theme (Colors in all non-system applications unaffected), unlike the predecessor's colorful GUI. Nonetheless, there are some third-party applications that enhance the interface or replace the system shell.
Instead of using the N-Gage with generic USB removable drive drivers, a user would use either Bluetooth or a separate MMC card reader to transfer files (for example, pictures, movies, or mp3s) onto an MMC card for use in the N-Gage QD.
The telephone portion no longer supports the three GSM frequency bands 900/1800/1900; instead it now comes in several dualband variants, one each for the American, European, and east Asian markets. (Each dualband variant comes in different colors, to aid in identification.)
The rest of the N-Gage QD hardware specification is otherwise the same as the original N-Gage.
N-Gage QD Silver Edition
Announced in August 2005, the N-Gage QD Silver Edition can be seen as an exercise in extending the life of the N-Gage product range while new N-Gage devices are developed and the N-Gage gaming range is integrated into the mainstream Series 60 product range. Apart from cosmetic changes, there is no difference in the N-Gage QD Silver Edition to the regular N-Gage QD.
MMC Based Games
Ngage Games So Far
Asphalt: Urban GT
Asphalt: Urban GT™ 2
Atari Masterpieces Vol. I
Atari Masterpieces Vol. II
Call of Duty
Colin McRae Rally 2005
Crash Nitro Kart
FIFA Soccer 2004
FIFA Soccer 2005
King of Fighters EXTREME
Marcel Desailly Pro Soccer
Mile High Pinball
Moto GP Racing
NCAA Football 2004
Pathway to Glory
Pathway to Glory Ikusa Islands
Puzzle Bobble VS
Requiem Of Hell
Rifts: Promise Of Power
SSX: Out of Bounds
Super Monkey Ball
System Rush Racing
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey™
The Roots: Gates of Chaos
The Sims Bustin’ Out
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Jungle Storm
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory™
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Team Stealth Action
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater
Worms World Party
X-Men™ Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
Before the launch of Nokia's first in-house N-Gage title, Pathway to Glory, a one level demo of the game was released to journalists to allow them to sample the game, and understand the concepts behind the turn based wargame. This demo was subsequently placed on the N-Gage.com website as a free download. Undaunted by the 16mb download size, fans jumped on the Pathway to Glory demo. The success of this demo probably led to both the sales success of Pathway to Glory, and proved to Nokia that this was a valid marketing route for future titles.
As of November 2005, there are thirteen N-Gage titles which have publicly available demonstration versions. These are:
- Asphalt Urban GT
- Colin McRae Rally 2005
- Pathway to Glory
- System Rush
- Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
- Worms World Party
- X-Men Legends
- Rifts: Promise of Power
- Asphalt Urban GT 2
- Mile High Pinball
Hailed as one of the best games on the N-Gage when released in January 2005, Snakes saw Nokia take an innovative route to promoting the N-Gage platform. Likely spurred on by the success of the demonstration versions, the full version of Snakes was made available online. It also featured an option that allowed the game to copy itself to another N-Gage unit using bluetooth as the carrier.
As of September 2005, it is estimated that Nokia has shipped more than two and a half million N-Gage game decks. The "N-Gage" brand name still has a very poor reputation, due to the weakness of the system's first games and the original model's limitations. Many gamers are unaware of the later QD redeisgn and still consider the N-Gage as a joke (see Penny Arcade's N-Gage Strip. The situation has not improved either with the arrival of the PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS handhelds. As of September 2005, Nokia has more than 50 games available for retail on the system, with at least 10 more expected up to and including Q1 2006.
While the N-Gage hasn't had any significant financial successes, it does have a handful of critical successes. Pocket Kingdom: 0wn the W0rld received a handful of glowing reviews when it was released, and Pathway to Glory is Nokia's first self-published success. These games haven't seemed to have had much effect in improving the perception of the N-Gage hardware itself in the eyes of consumers or press.
While the N-Gage QD hardware itself, sold unlocked and without a SIM card, has held steady at $250-300, the price with a contract in the US has continued to decrease. In the US, T-Mobile initially offered it for approximately $200 with contract, then sold it for between free and $150, depending on the promotions and contract. As of April 2005, the N-Gage QD retails for $99 at EB Games without the contract requirement.
In January 2005, UK sales-tracking firm ChartTrack dropped the N-Gage from its regular ELSPA chart, commenting that "The N-Gage chart, though still produced, is of little interest to anyone. Sales of the machine and its software have failed to make any impact on the market at all." Although only directly reflectant of the UK market, this was interpreted by some as a serious blow to the N-Gage as a viable gaming platform. Despite this, Nokia has reaffirmed their commitment to the N-Gage as a platform, to the point where a new version of the hardware was rumored after GDC 2005.
February 2005 saw Nokia appoint Gerard Wiener, formerly of Sega Europe, to the post of Director and General Manager for Games at Nokia. Wiener has steered Nokia away from looking at the N-Gage as primarily being a games console to "this is a mobile phone that is great for playing games on." This strategy, along with targeting niche franchises such as the table-top Warhammer 40,000 series, the Rifts RPG series, and the Settlers of Catan board game, has kept sales of the N-Gage healthy and given the platform a modicum of respect from some quarters of the media. It should be noted that this change coincided with the initial releases of the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS.
After E3 2005, Nokia announced their intention to make it possible to play unspecified certain N-Gage games on their next wave of smartphones. (At E3, games were demonstrated on the Nokia 3230, 6680, Nokia 6630, and N90, but Nokia has not yet announced what phones will be compatible with this as-of-yet unnamed service.)  These phones won't be compatible with the games sold on MMC in stores, but will be able to download games over the cellular network, or play games downloaded on your computer. All of the details of this scheme have not yet been stated, but this network/scheme should be in place sometime in 2006.
In July 2005, retailers began trying to clear out the N-Gage from their stores. Many game stores, such as EB Games and GameStop, have dropped prices for N-Gage games significantly. For the few stores that still have N-Gage games left, they are priced at $6.99.
In November 2005, Antti Vasara, Nokia's vice president for corporate strategy, stated that the N-Gage will be discontinued until at least 2007. "N-Gage is still being sold but it was not a success in the sense of developing a new category," he said. He also indicated that the gaming capabilities would be folded into the Nokia Series 60 phones and that the 2007 date was targeted as when screen size and quality would be more conducive to mobile gaming.
The system will continue to be sold in the Chinese and Indian markets.
- Nokia's official N-Gage site
- All About N-Gage - All About Symbian's excellent unofficial N-Gage site for the N-Gage communityes:N-Gageit:N-Gage