This is going to be a tricky article to write, because of what I have to write about. Nokia, for all their press releases and good intentions, are forcing a lot of people to turn to Piracy (namely Warez) to get the best out of their N-Gage. We really love the N-Gage here, but that doesn't mean we'll just accept everything about it...
Battery or Piracy... You Decide.
Let's get something straight first. The battery on the Nokia N-Gage is one of the most powerful mobile phone batteries on the market. It quite happily powers other devices (like the Nokia 3650 and 6600), and if you use the N-Gage purely as a phone, then you'll never have a worry over the battery life.
Of course nobody is going to be using the N-Gage just as a phone. You're going to be running that FM Radio on the tripto work in the morning, or listening to The Darkness on the MP3 player. And of course, you'll be playing those MMC Game Cards a lot!
Playing games on the N-Gage is the biggest killer on battery life. I'm not sure why, because regular java games and installable games downloaded from the net don't kill the battery life like Tony Hawks does. Maybe it's becasue of the constant accessing of the MMC Card? Maybe there's a software hack to speed up the processor clock while the game is running. But even with the 6 hour MMC gameplay, that's no the thing that is contributing the most to the poor battery life of the N-Gage.
The biggest battery drain is changing the MMC Game Card.
Not because the action of removing a card drains power, but because you need to remove the battery, which rather effectivly switches the N-Gage off. So you change the card over, replace teh back cover, and switch it back on. Now watch that battery power drain away. Whenever your N-Gage switches on, it powers up every circuit and does a self check on everything electrical. It screams at the top of it's voice "I'm here!!!" to the mobile phone networks until the local mast picks it up and lets it log on. It then sends a whole bundle of data to the network so you can make and recieve calls, sms, or anything else. All this takes about 30 seconds, and it's this cycle that drains the power.
Don't Change The Card (Take One)
There is an easy option. Put in a Game Card, play it to death over two or three weeks, go and buy another Game Card, and play that.
Utterly unrealistic. Most people are going to have two or three games, so they'll be swapping these around a lot (and complaining of the low battery life because of powering up the device so many times per charge), and they'll be looking for more things that the N-Gage can do (see our First Steps article for some more info on this). And everyone will start to experiment with the "Nokia Game" MMC card that comes with the N-Gage, which is a writeable 32mb MMC Card you can load your own appplications onto. It's very easy to have 20 or 30 downloaded appliactions on that card. The card that needs to be swapped out to play MMC games.
So it's a simple jump to think, why can't I slip Tony Hawks onto that blank MMC card (16mb), and use the other 16mb for those downloaded applications.
Don't Change The Card (Take Two)
And here's where I think Houston has a problem (or at least the big Head Office in Finland). Because you can't back up your MMC Game Card onto either your PC or another MMC Card (perhaps Nokia need to look at the United States Copyright Law, Section 117(2),which permits me to make a back-up copy of any computer media for archival purposes). But with larger and larger MMC cards becoming available - currently 128mb are very popular, with 256mb and 512mb cards starting to appear - more and more everyday users are asking why can;t they put their game on their MMC card. It's more convenient to not swap cards, it means your third party applications and MMC Games sit happily together, and it makes the battery last longer.
Of course there is a way you can get an MMC Game onto a blank MMC Card, and that's hunt down a pirated copy of the game on the internet. It took my Dad about an hour, so any computer-savvy N-Gage owner (which, quite frankly, will be most of them) should be able to find it, download it, install it, all within 15 minutes of typing www.google.com. And once you've found one application, you've found them all. So why would they carry on buying the MMC Game Cards (why indeed, see here for more thoughts on making MMC Cards popular)?
And here's the quandry. You have a design problem that hits battery life, and the solution (dump everything on one blank MMC ) also negates the other major design problem (having to change the MMC Game Cards). It all sounds wonderfully simple... excpet for the fact that it is a tiny bit illegal.
What Have I Done To Deserve This?
So you can either use your device to its fullest potential, but encourage piracy, or live with poor battery life, constatly switching MMC Game cards and blank cards, certain in the knowlegde that there is a better way, And I think Nokia should consider this as an option.
Firstly, on each MMC Game Card have a small program that alters the registry with a one-time encryption key. This allows you to play that MMC Game Card application from a blank MMC. Of course, this means the copy protection on the MMC will need to be opened up slightly so I can back-up the data and move it to my blank MMC Game Card - and adding the second part of the key into the application information file wold be part of this back up process.
Yes, this is a sketchy outline of how to do it, but the object (to empower users to use the N-gage how they want to) is clear. And while an initial reaction might be, this will make it easy to pirate the MMC games, you forget one thing. The MMC Game Cards will be cracked and available as warez no matter what Nokia do. On the official release of FIFA 2004, it was warezed within 3-4 days. Nokia even acknowledged that they knew piracy would hapen, just not so quickly.
If you keep the average user away from Warez by providing them with tools and information to give them what they want, then they'll continue to buy your MMC Game Cards. You can't afford to let these people get familiar with the warez crowd, or the N-Gage is going to suffer from the worst fate possible on a games system - no sales.
It should be stressed that All About N-Gage (and All About Symbian) do not condone software piracy in any form. Our policy on this is available to read here.