Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

May 14th, 2003

Competition in the handheld console market

It looks like we are finally going to see some serious competition in the handheld game console market, after years of domination by Nintendo. The two most serious contenders are Sony with a PlayStation handheld, and Nokia with the N-Gage console/phone combo. There’s also some movement on a PalmOS based games console, but with this coming from a startup we are less likely to see this being a big player in the market.

With these new entrants we are also seeing some innovation that goes beyond what has been essentially the same format for the handheld console. Sony is basing their console on a 1.8GB optical disk format, protected in a plastic case, with better graphical capabilities than the PSone, and up to two hours of full screen video being available. They will have connectivity via USB 2.0, and memory stick support.

The biggest question is going to be on battery life – spinning an optical disk takes a lot of power compared to reading data out of a memory cartridge. If Sony can get a good life span out of it then it could become an essential travel gadget, especially if the latest DVD releases also become available for it. The competition is tough though – Nintendo is claiming the Gameboy Advance SP has ten hours of battery life with the light on, and eighteen hours with the built in light switched off! The importance of battery life in a handheld console should not be underestimated.

The combination of a game console with a phone is in itself a major innovation, but how many people will be willing to have a phone that is so obviously a game device? A less spectacular innovation, but still interesting, is the use of bluetooth to enable wireless head to head gaming. It will certainly be more convenient than messing around with cables, but I doubt it’ll become a killer feature.

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