Nokia introduces new N-Gage, hints at what's to come

n-gage screenNo matter how much we talk about Apple’s elegant iPhone or Google’s mobile initiatives, Nokia just plods along undaunted, doing its own thing. With the introduction today of N-Gage and Ovi, it sure feels like Nokia is on to something before anybody else.

Nokia, the world’s No. 1 handset manufacturer, has begun rolling out its N-Gage gaming service and the “Share on Ovi” media sharing site in limited form. N-Gage is the resurrection of the ill-fated phone/gaming device that debuted in late 2003, only this time N-Gage is software that is downloaded to Nokia phones. The application is essentially a portal, allowing users access to games and community features like Ovi.

N-Gage is currently available for N81 models, but it will also work on N95 and other Nokia devices through hacks. (Details are at all about symbian.)

N-Gage is the first version of Nokia’s new mobile gaming platform, and it offers a glimpse of how Nokia envisions mobile game play and, to a larger extent, how it views the future of entertainment.

ngage screenThe N-Gage is about networked games, but these games do not exist yet. For the moment, the platform is limited to logging your high scores and providing a messaging client through which you will be able to challenge friends to games. High scores are shared with friends (contacts), so everybody can see your scores. You can build yourself a profile in social networking, Web 2.0 style (The Register).

“These are the first steps on the long journey towards becoming a competitor in the Web 2.0 services space,” Ben Wood, CCS Insight research director, told Reuters. “It now faces the challenge of building awareness for these and other services with consumers who have already gravitated towards established Web brands such as Google.”

With handset prices falling, Nokia is expanding into mobile Internet services and is the first cell phone maker to move strongly into the content space — before Samsung, Motorola, LG, Apple, Google, RIM, and others.

The mobile gaming market also slumped last year, and it didn’t help that Nokia delayed N-Gage twice due to software testing. Many game developers, Reuters notes, point at the telecom operators’ lack of interest in investing in mobile games for the decline.

“One of the main problems has been that around 90 percent of purchases are made through the operator portal and operators have spent very little on marketing and promotion of new game titles,” Daniel Winterbottom, an analyst at the research firm Informa, told Reuters.

nokia logoNokia’s initiative is worth watching closely for a couple of reasons. One is the simple fact that the Finnish company now has 40 percent of the world’s market share (especially in Europe), and it does not appear to be on a self destruction path like Motorola.

Nokia also has a strong vision for the future of entertainment, which it released as a commissioned study in December. While that vision is content focused, Nokia’s view is a slight departure from what Apple is doing with the iPhone and who knows what Google will be doing in the mobile space.

“Consumers are increasingly demanding their entertainment be truly immersive, engaging and collaborative,” said Tom Savigar, Trends Director at Nokia The Future Laboratory.

“Whereas once the act of watching, reading and hearing entertainment was passive, consumers now and in the future will be active and unrestrained by the ubiquitous nature of circular entertainment,” he said. “Key to this evolution is consumers’ basic human desire to compare and contrast, create and communicate.”

Sounds like N-Gage and Ovi fit right in.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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