Phone envy is a very powerful, unpleasant thing. Searching for a better cellphone has become something of an obsession. Sure, your phone works fine, but tens of millions of marketing dollars are spent on convincing you that you could do better.
It's a bit like looking over someone's shoulder at a party. The conversation is fine, but you're always wondering if there's someone more interesting just over there.
Nokia knows phone envy like no other company. It was the one who initially sent cellphone freaks into a frenzy by supplying the original Matrix movie with a fancy phone for Keanu Reeves to beam himself up with. Each of Nokia's phones is designed with fashion in mind. (Take a stroll through a phone shop in Europe and that clunky old cellphone you've got will feel positively prehistoric in comparison.) Nokia wants you to want its phones, not for what they do but for how they look and feel.
Nokia's flashy new N-Gage is a palm-sized portable gaming machine that lets you play a handful of the most advanced, high-end video games (Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, MLB Slam, Super Monkey Ball) in your hand. It connects to a wireless network so you can play online, on the go, and also includes an MP3 player, an FM radio, a Web browser and e-mail. Oh yeah, it also takes calls.
Nokia's target for the N-Gage is the Nintendo Game Boy market. For years, the pointy-headed folks in lab coats who bring us the latest in bleeding-edge technology have been promising us convergence. The obvious question is whether anyone will care.
Phones now come smaller than a pack of gum, with mini-cameras attached, bundled with MP3 players, radios, e-mail clients and more. Games on phones are nothing new. Perhaps anticipating the arrival of the N-Gage, cellphone services often promote their new devices by touting which games they include.
Even so, you still see most people talking on their phones, not playing with them.
The reality is that we're kind of single-minded when it comes to our technology.
The much-hyped "next generation" of phones that allow for high-speed mobile Web browsing never really caught on, and the ability to use your phone to buy gas and work vending machines (already all the rage in Japan) seems decades away here. Even text messaging has been slow to take off on this side of the ocean.
At $450 plus another $50 or so for games, the N-Gage doesn't come cheap. Is mobile leisure really worth the price?
One of the reasons why the Game Boy has been so successful is that it's cheap and does just what it promises - plays games. There's no Web browsing, no paging, no ring tones.
The N-Gage looks sharp and brings all sorts of different elements together. On another level, though, it also seems like convergence for the sake of it.
Me, I think I'll stick with my cellphone and keep my video games at home. It's simpler that way.