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The second generation N-Gage has been pre-launched earlier this month. For those of you who remember, the N-Gage Mk.I was underwhelming to the extreme; it was a handset derided by gamers as having a clunky design (you had to take out the battery to the game in), had a fairly weak catalogue and sold an embarrassingly small number of handsets. This next gen N-Gage is a different beast as it is a downloadable (soon to be pre-installed) application which acts as an X-Box Live-alike hub through which you can download and play games as well as interact with friends. The new N-Gage is currently only available on the N-81, but by April this year will have been rolled out to the majority of N-Series handsets.

After being very sceptical when I heard this announcement first, I’m encouraged with what I’ve seen of the N-Gage so far. From a market penetration and install base perspective, it makes much more sense to have the N-Gage as a games portal rather than a handset. Also, it will be good competition to the mobile operators game distribution model, as currently most users are only aware of the games that their individual operator chooses to to push. Branding the system with a failed brand is a gutsy move, but to be honest the average consumer is probably not aware that there was an original N-Gage in the first place. This is why I really think the N-Gage will succeed – the boom in portable casual games has attracted a much larger potential user base of non-traditional gamers than existed when the original handset was released.

There is also a rumour that depending on how successful this launch is, the N-Gage could potentially spread to non-Nokia handsets. While I don’t think that I’ll be chucking my DS in the bin any time soon, its great to have another mobile gaming option that involves me having to carry one less device around with me every day.

The other tidbit of news that I found interesting is that Nokia have acquired mobile Linux OS makers Trolltech. While the focus in the press has been that this purchase will put Nokia’s rivals on alert, seeing as they essentially own two mobile OS companies (Nokia also has a 60% stake in Symbian), it looks to me that they are also trying to stimulate a sense of internal competition.  I can’t think of that many market leaders that take this kind of approach – maybe things are just done differently in Finland?