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Gizmondo: Portable Mobile Gaming (9/2005)
by Douglas Dixon
We love our handheld devices, but each of us uses them for different purposes -- mobile phone and messaging, music players and movie watching, individual and networked gaming, web access, and more. The challenge, both for consumers and for consumer electronics companies, is to find the right balance of features, packaged in a convenient form factor, and with a dash of cool design for the target demographic.
For example, the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) starts as a powerful handheld gaming machine, adds playback of feature-length movies from the new UMD disc format, and squeezes in basic media player functions for music, photos, and videos downloaded to Memory Stick PRO Duo media (www.us.playstation.com/psp.aspx).
While the PSP demonstrates how gaming platforms are growing into multi-purpose handheld media devices, other kinds of devices are being developed from different roots, including media players and mobile phones. And then there's Tiger Telematics, a Jacksonville, Florida-based company in the business of mobile telematics, combining GPS and GSM functionality for professional applications such as vehicle fleet management. Tiger has expanded into the consumer market with its Gizmondo division in the U.K., which is developing an interesting approach to a handheld multimedia gaming device that not only combines gaming, PDA-like applications, media playback, and a built-in camera -- but also adds a GSM / GPRS cellular radio for wide-area network gaming, and GPS for location tracking (www.gizmondo.com).
The Gizmondo design is nicely rounded to fit in a palm, weighing 6.5 oz, and with a 2.8-inch display, at 320 x 240 resolution with 65,000 colors. It's powered by an ARM 400 MHz processor plus NVIDIA GoForce graphics co-processor, and is planned to run applications and movies from secure SD cards.
In comparison, the PSP is about the same weight, but wider, featuring a beautiful 4.3 inch widescreen display, at 480 x 272 with full 16 million colors. Driven by a 333 MHz processor, it has WiFi interface for both ad-hoc local gaming networks, and connection to network hotspots. The PSP is priced at around US$249.
The Gizmondo also is a game machine, and a movie viewer, and a portable media player. The addition of the GSM / GPRS connection adds text and picture messaging (data-only, there's no voice phone). For multi-player gaming, it includes Bluetooth for local gamers, and the cellular connection permits playing multi-player games across the globe. Plus, the GPS support offers not only map-based location tracking and location-based information services, but also opens the possibility of combining virtual game worlds with the real world -- think of virtual treasure hunts on the streets of your town.
Gizmondo main menu
The Gizmondo is targeted to early adopters between ages 15 and 29 as a mobile entertainment center for both individual use and mobile gaming with others. It was first released in the United Kingdom in March 2005, began rollouts in Europe in mid-year, and was targeted for a U.S. release on August 11. I had an opportunity to work with a British unit in June, which included the basic applications and some twenty demo and prototype games, but no cellular connection or GPS-based applications.
The "Agaju" game provides the best example of exploiting the Gizmondo platform -- it uses the camera as an input control device, acting as a "gyroscopic camera" to change your three-dimensional view of the maze environment in response to your movement of the handheld.
What's most interesting about the Gizmondo, however, is the business model -- this is an attempt to turn a physical handheld device into an advertiser-supported service with subscription-based revenue. It is being introduced into the U.S. at two price points, $399 at full price, or $229 for advertiser-supported "Smart Adds." Tiger reports it has signed up over 70 major advertisers for this service. The Smart Adds will be downloaded as 20- to 30-second clips, targeted to your interests and location, and can include coupons or barcodes for discounts (plus GPS directions to the closest store). The company promises to send no more than three such clips a day, and to never interrupt your activities, only displaying ads when the user returns to the Home menu.
Tiger Telematics is also talking about a "Bizmondo" follow-up product that adds features like live financial reporting. However, this is a lot of work for a relatively small company (market cap of $1B in January, but then dropped), and a preview unit from June 2005 could use more polishing before the planned August release to major retailers (deleted to later in the year) -- including locking down the required GSM networking and GPS tracking infrastructure.
So, is the right mix for young early adopters? At $229, the Gizmondo could be a great deal as a game machine, not bad for a media and video viewer (with limited screen and storage), interesting as a camera and multimedia messaging device, and very interesting as a GPS mapping device. Gizmondo even argues that the discounts from Smart Adds could cover the cost of the device, although there's still that pesky recurring bill for cellular data service (beyond your current phone service). Imagine the phone bills for over all-night gaming sessions against opponents in Europe and beyond.
Sony PlayStation Portable
Gizmondo - Smart Adds