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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 September, 2004, 08:09 GMT 09:09 UK
New handheld consoles fight it out
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology editor

A battle is looming for the palm of your hand, with a raft of new handheld gaming machines due out in the coming months.

Gizmondo handheld gaming console
Millions expected to be playing on the go by 2006
Games giants like Nintendo and Sony are aiming to dominate this next generation of entertainment on the go with their new devices.

But two smaller fish are hoping to take a bite of the gaming pie with their own mobile consoles.

The US-based Tapwave is bringing its Zodiac games PDA to the UK, while another US firm, Tiger Telematics, is using the UK as the launch pad for its Gizmondo console.

Consoles for Christmas

The mobile games market is shaping up to be the next battleground with more than 100 million people expected to be playing on the go by 2006.

Sony plans to debut its handheld PlayStation Portable (PSP) in Japan later this year, while Nintendo will compete with the new dual-screen DS.

Zodiac gaming device
3.8 inch, 480 x 320 colour screen
Motorola ARM9 processor
Zodiac 1 - 32MB / Zodiac 2 - 128MB memory
ATI Imageon graphics accelerator
Operating system based on Palm OS
Dual SD/MMC card slots
Bluetooth and infra-red
Music and video player
Analogue joystick
But neither of these are going to be available in Europe until 2005, potentially leaving a gap for newcomers such as the Zodiac and Gizmondo.

The Zodiac, launched in the US in June, is a portable device based on the Palm operating system. But it has been tweaked to be used as a games and multimedia handheld.

"We've positioned this for fun and function," said Byron Connell, Tapwave's vice president of marketing. "It is a handheld device that bridges your personal and professional life."

As well as offering all the usual organiser functions like diary and contacts, it can also play music and video, as well as a selection of games such as Doom II, Duke Nukem and SpyHunter on a large 480x320 colour display.

"We wanted to design something from the ground up with entertainment and multimedia capabilities," Mr Connell told BBC News Online.

He said the device was aimed at a generation which had outgrown Nintendo's GameBoy, but wanted a PDA which could also play games.

"Nobody is addressing the older gamer in their twenties," he said.

The console is offered in two models - the Zodiac1 with 32MB RAM and the Zodiac2 with 128MB of RAM - and is due to be in the shops before the end of the year. Prices have yet to be announced but in the US the Zodiac 1 retails for $299.

Satellite tracking

Vying for the wallets of gamers will be the Gizmondo, which gets its global debut in the UK on 29 October and is expected to sell for around 230.

Gizmondo handheld gaming console
2.8 inch 240 X 320 colour screen
Samsung ARM9 400Mhz processor
120MB memory
Nvidia GoForce 3D 4500 graphics processor
Windows CE operating system
Music and video player
GPS, Bluetooth, GPRS, SMS and MMS
Built-in camera
SD card slot
The device is described as an entertainment centre that fits in your pocket. Running on the Windows CE operating system, the console can play music, films and games, offers text messaging and even packs a camera.

But its unique selling point, according to its makers, is that it comes with built-in global positioning system (GPS) technology.

Tiger Telematics, the company behind the Gizmondo, has a history of producing devices with satellite navigation.

"Our idea was to put GPS in a product that children would like to use," said Patrick Wallgren, head of Gizmondo global public relations.

"We thought the ability to play with your physical position would be a great experience."

One of the first games for the device, called Colors, is based on the idea of creating your gang territory and competing with others who come into your area.

"GPS is definitely the killer application," said Mr Wallgren, although he admitted that the company faced tough competition from the likes of Sony and Nintendo.

"We are certainly the underdog. We are not looking to make a big impact straight away.

"We are focusing on getting first of all the early adopters, gamers aged between 15 and 29 years old," he said.

Calling gamers

The Zodiac and Gizmondo are not just facing competition from Sony and Nintendo in the future.

Handset maker Nokia already made some in-roads with its N-Gage mobile/gaming hybrid.

It has shipped more than a million units and recently revamped the device to address criticisms of its original design.

The people behind the Zodiac or Gizmondo insist that they do not see the N-Gage as a direct competitor. Both say their handhelds are not meant to be used to make phone calls.

The two handheld consoles will be battling it out in the run-up to Christmas. But UK gamers may decide to hold out for the offerings from Sony and Nintendo in 2005.

Games giants in mobile battle
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Sony to launch portable console
14 May 03  |  Technology
Nintendo plans two-screen gaming
21 Jan 04  |  Technology
UK turning into nation of gamers
01 Sep 04  |  Technology

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