Assumptions Gone Wrong: The Nokia N-Gage

May 22, 2017 · 3 min read

The failures of others can often be used to teach a lesson. In turn, I opted to write about the Nokia N-Gage, it offers a valuable lesson on how not to launch a product.

Many Millennials probably have fond memories of growing up with a Nintendo Gameboy. It was a great product for its time and brought joy to millions of kids in the United States. The games were fun, the product worked well, and Nintendo was selling consoles at an impressive rate. I distinctly remember wanting one as a kid and being disappointed when my parents tried to buy one only to find out they were sold out everywhere. Eventually, I did get one and went on to play for entirely too many hours on it.

Nintendo Game Boy

The Game Boy eventually became an iconic console and is still remembered by most that owned one. The success that Nintendo had with the console prompted other companies to launch similar products. One of those companies was Nokia. In 2002 the company announced its new N-Gage product. It was a smartphone and handheld game system hybrid. The product went on to be released in October of 2003.

Nokia N-Gage

Nokia had naturally assumed that the product would be a huge hit with customers. After all, it eliminated the need to carry a phone and a game console by combining the two. Unfortunately, the market did not react kindly to the product. In the first few weeks of sales in the United States, the Game Boy Advance outsold the N-Gage 100 to 1. Within just 17 days of its release some major retailers such as GameStop and Electronics Boutique began offering rebates on the sale price. In the end, Nokia only managed to reach a third of its expected sales of 6 million units. In fact, just two years later in 2005 Nokia had already admitted that the product was a commercial failure.

Today, the original N-Gage is viewed as a funny product that not many took seriously. It is often humorously described as combining gaming, mobile phones, and tacos due to its shape. Many also call it a “taco phone” because of the awkward way it has to be held during phone calls.

A not so brilliant design

While there are numerous reasons for why the N-Gage failed (the awkward shape and controls, poor selection of games, bad functionality, and short battery life are a few) they are all rooted in the same problem. Nokia simply did not do sufficient product and market research before launching the N-Gage. They assumed that there was a market for it and then launched it. This was a mistake that cost the company millions. In turn, today the N-Gage is a powerful lesson for why market and user research is essential to launching successful products.

Correctly executed research often boosts the success of a product, while badly executed research dooms the product before it has even had a chance to succeed. Research should be thought of as the foundation for a product. If a strong foundation is present, then the product has a stable and secure base from which to grow and thrive. Meanwhile, no research is often similar to building a product on quicksand. There is no foundation and chances are that the product will sink and collapse in on itself.


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