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Nokia misses N-Gage sales target by miles

Aimed for 6m, sold 2m

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Nokia's handheld games console-cum-phone, the N-Gage, remains central to the Finnish giant's multimedia strategy despite failing to meet sales expectations.

Speaking in Barcelona this week, Anssi Vanjoki, who runs Nokia's multimedia operation, admitted he was unhappy with the console's take-up.

"I said we needed to sell six million in three years, and we sold one-third of that," he said, Reuters reports. "We need to make some changes."

The N-Gage was launched in November 2002, initially targeting the European market. It arrived in the US the following October. In November 2003, on the console's first birthday, Nokia reiterated forecasts that it would have shipped more than 6m N-Gage's by the end of 2004, let alone by late 2005.

Interestingly, in February 2004, Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila said the console would be given until November 2005 before it would be judged a success or failure. Well, that's where we are now, and sure enough we have the company talking about making "changes".

They may already be taking place. In May 2004, Nokia shipped the more compact N-Gage QD, which addressed many of the problems punters had had with the first generation of the console. The company had been rumoured to be preparing a third-generation model for display at the E3 games show this past May, but if such a beast exists, it wasn't presented to the public.

Instead, Nokia said N-Gage games would be supported across a range of Series 60 smart phones due to ship early 2006. What it had in mind were the three new N-series handsets it unveiled this week. Indeed, Vanjoki said Nokia would bring games developed for the N-Gage to these handsets.

Which is, of course, what it should have done at the start. When the N-Gage was launched, Nokia was adamant that the device was a console first and a phone a distant second. Such a notion was doomed from the start: its phone heritage was blatantly obvious - the tiny screen, primarily - and Nokia needed carriers to subsidise the device's price to make it affordable. Inevitably, consumers were going to treat it as a game-playing phone, and arguably Nokia should have accepted that and pushed a multimedia handset rather than something that wasn't a good console and wasn't a good phone either.

That said, what N-Gage has allowed Nokia to do is build closer ties with the gaming industry, which it might not have been able to make had N-Gage been just another game-playing phone, even one with a better gaming capacity than handsets that rely, say, on Java. In that respect, even having sold in the millions, N-Gage may be judged by Nokia a success. ®

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