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Alive 7



  For years Nintendo  have been enjoying a de facto  monopoly on the  handheld
  console  market.  No one managed  to seriously  threaten the Gameboy,  be it
  the Gamegear  from Sega,  the Lynx from Atari or the NeoGeo Pocket from SNK,
  not to  mention weaker  competitors.  Today  even the  powerful  Korean-made
GP32  stands  no  chance on  the  mainstream  market  due  to  the  lack  of
  financial weight  of its conceptors.  This may change  in a near future,  as
  the market  for that  kind  of  devices  and associated  games  is  becoming
  increasingly  attractive for  a number  of  big  players,  such as  Nokia or
  Sony,  but also  for some  smaller firms.  Below is a quick overview of some
  of the forthcoming consoles.

- Nokia N-Gage
The Finnish world leader  for mobile phones is planning  to release a game 
device  -that could be also used as a phone- during  the fourth quarter of 
2003.  The emphasis is put  on wireless multiplayer games,  thanks  to its 
Bluetooth and GSM/GPRS features.  Technically it is based around a 104 Mhz 
ARM processor,  the display size is 176x208 pixels  in 4096 colours  for a 
maximum  frame rate  of 30 fps.  From a software  point  of view,  it uses 
Symbian OS and  the architectur e of the Series 60  phones.  Games will be 
provided on MMC memory cards, usually of 8 Mb. Unfortunately professionals 
of the game industry who were presented to the console earlier in the year 
seem to be unimpressed,  partly due to some design flaws  (changing a game 
cartridge  involves  removing the  back of  the  unit  and taking  out the 
battery), partly due to its high retail price ($299) and partly due to the 
fact the games presented so far are generally unexciting, suffering of low 
frame rate or overall poor quality.

- Tapwave Helix 
Tapwave  was founded  in 2001  by former  Palm  engineering and  marketing 
leaders,  and they plan to release a  handheld console using PalmOS at the 
end of 2003. The current specifications are quite impressive,  including a 
Motorola ARM9 processor, an ATI graphics accelerator, a 480x320 pixels 3.8 
inch screen, an analog controller and Bluetooth wireless networking.  Like 
the N-Gage,  the price should be around $300,  which is much more than the 
GBA, so Tapwave may price itself out of the market.  Moreover one can have 
some  concerns  about  the lack  of financial/marketing  power of  Tapwave 
compared to Nintendo, which could jeopardize the future of the console.

- Sony PSP
The Japanese  giant  just  announced at  the latest  E3 in May  they  will 
release a  handheld  console  at at the end of 2004.  From the few details 
Sony have made public yet,  it seems it will be  more powerful  than a PS1 
(near PS2-quality graphics were announced)  and the storage format will be 
a 60mm optical disc based  in a Mini-Disc-style casing,  holding up to 1.8 
Gb of data! Resolution should be 480x272 in a 16/9 ratio. In top of games, 
the device  should  be able  to  offer  up to 2 hours  of video  at a near 
DVD-quality and numerous other uses, considering it will be connectable to 
the  forthcoming PS3  and uses  Memory Sticks  (such as the  ones used for 
digital cameras) rather than the usual memory cards... 

  Although  I would like  an alternative to the GBA  emerging soon in order to
  force  Nintendo to  adopt a saner pricing,  I have  the feeling  it will not
  happen before  Sony enter the market.  Both Nokia and Tapwave  devices won't
  probably be able to compete  directly with Nintendo,  due both to their high
  price  (more  than twice  than a GBA)  and their  lack of experience  in the
  gaming market.  But even Sony's handheld  will probably  be sold at a higher
  price than the Gameboy, considering its impressive specs...


Alive 7