Weekly Wrap: No More Tacos
By Carlo Longino, Fri Apr 16 09:00:00 GMT 2004

Nokia releases an updated N-Gage, KDDI comes out on top in Japan, even if cameraphone usage there doesn't measure up to Western perceptions, and more...


Everybody's favorite device, the N-Gage, got a brother this week, the N-Gage QD, a new version that corrects many of the criticisms leveled at the first version of the mobile gaming device. Gone is sidetalkin', the FM radio and the dedicated MP3 chip. In is a smaller, better-looking design, a brighter screen, and yes, hot-swappable MMC support. It seems pretty clear that the QD was designed with keeping costs low as its primary concern -- something reflected in its cheap retail price.

As Nokia looks to rebound from disappointing N-Gage sales, Samsung appears to be reaping the benefits of focusing on the high end of the handset market. The company has the highest average selling price -- $194 -- of the top manufacturers, and it's margins are at a healthy 20%. The company's leapt ahead of other manufacturers in bringing new features to market, like color screens, camcorders and MP3 players.

Separately, Samsung is hoping that securing a number of patents for forthcoming technologies will make it the dominant 4G (yes, that's 4G) handset manufacturer.

Elsewhere in Asia, the latest subscriber figures from Japan show that KDDI added more subscribers last year than rival NTT DoCoMo. But while the networks are still adding users, a recent survey illustrates that the Japanese aren't using their cameraphones as much as Westerners might tend to believe. A DoCoMo survey showed that two-thirds take pictures less than three times a month, though two-thirds of those users send the photos over the network -- with the usual suspects to blame: high prices and poor interfaces.

A successor to DoCoMo's current president, Keiji Tachikawa, also emerged this week. The choice of Shiro Tsuda, a DoCoMo senior vice president who, like Tachikawa, started his career as an NTT engineer, looks likely to be made official at a shareholder's meeting in June.

But while the Japanese carriers add subscribers, one US operator is bleeding them. AT&T Wireless, which was struggling a bit even before Cingular made a deal to buy it, has been the hardest hit by wireless local number portability, and also shows the most subscribers of any US carrier considering switching away. In an effort to strike back (and keep its numbers up and merger deal intact), AT&T announced some new GSM plans built around an expanded 850-mHz network.

Chip behemoth Intel this week announced a new family of processors for mobile phones, based on the XScale product that's popular in Pocket PCs. The chips include a version of Intel's desktop MMX multimedia technology to improve performance and battery life.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Howard Rheingold takes a look at how SMS affects elections, and Mark Frauenfelder tells us about some researchers hoping to make wireless gear a part of firefighters' life-saving equipment.