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Switched On: The Game Boy Micro pulls off the screen play

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Every Wednesday Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, an opinion column about consumer technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:

Some mobile phone zealots believe that handsets - driven by must-have voice functionality and carrier subsidization - will ultimately be the only portable device people will ever need. Digital music? Check. Photos and video? Check. Games? Check. Actually, forget the checks, they might say, as everyone knows the future of payments is also on mobile phones.

But the purveyors of non-wireless devices are certainly not going quietly. If there's only one pocket, they're determined to fight for their space in it. As a result, recent products like the sleek iPod nano and the bantam Palm z22 are small enough to fit in your pocket with your mobile phone (or justify their small existence in a second pocket or purse). With this comes compromises. While Apple and Palm talk up the legibility of screens on their diminutive devices, the nano and z22 have relatively low resolution when compared with more expensive models.


Given that Game Boy games are written to a fixed resolution, Nintendo has not had that luxury with its Game Boy Micro. So small is the micro that it can disappear behind your hands, making it possible to discreetly play There is no stylus, no flash memory cards, no Web browser, or any of the other trappings of next-generation handheld games. While Nintendo claims the compact console uses the best screen ever used in a Game Boy product, it is certainly among the smallest � too small, say some.

The screen may prove frustrating if your games include reading a lot of small text but most Game Boy Advance arcade-style games look and feel great on the Micro. If you�re a traditionalist not drawn to the DS� dual screens or stylus input, the Game Boy Micro provides a stylish, bite-size gaming complement to the pocket-punishing PSP. Even if you have a Game Boy Advance SP (or want to wait until it�s blown out in the Black Friday sales), you�ll find the enticing Game Boy micro will tempt you to play more.

Like Apple and Palm, Nintendo has launched its fantastic voyage with a well-traveled vehicle; the Game Boy Micro uses cartridges originally designed for the Game Boy Advance launched in 2001. While these plastic packages were small compared to previous Game Boy cartridges, they are bulky next to the SD-like cartridges of today�s DS games. In fact, the Micro�s tiny dimensions are even more impressive if you consider the space occupied by the now relatively large GBA cartridges. In contrast, the iPod nano and Palm z22 rely on their internal memory and PC connectivity to keep device size down, and many modern mobile phones can receive game downloads over the air, with the graphics of some closing in on the four-year-old Game Boy Advance�s architecture.

There are signs that the game industry is coming around, though. Microsoft�s Bill Gates recently noted that he believes that the next generation of optical disks will represent the last physical format ever. For now, though, Microsoft will distribute much digital content � although not full games � via the version of Xbox Live launched with the XBox 360. Nintendo, in addition to delivering classic games electronically with its next-generation Revolution, will distribute DS content through its free Wi-Fi access initiative.

So, as long as Nintendo stays in step with its platform rivals clinging to cartridges (or their optical equivalents), there will be limits to how small and portable their consoles can be. Offering removable media provides hypothetically infinite choice, but the lesson of the iPod vs. Mini-Disc is that most consumers would rather keep moderate collections in a small space than swap media every time they need to make a choice. If you�re handy with a flash linker, this may be less of an issue for you, but most of the Game Boy Micro�s audience will still have to struggle with the juggle.



Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis at NPD Techworld, a division of market research and analysis provider The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On, however, are his own. Feedback is welcome at fliptheswitch@gmail.com.
In this article: features, switched on, SwitchedOn
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