Why, though? Nokia’s ‘taco phone’

N-Gage was a cell phone ahead of its time in some ways, and an absolute disaster in so, so many more.

Most people today have “Candy Crush” or some other mobile game on their phones if, at the very least, to pass the time on the subway or at the DMV.

A cell phone shaped like a taco shell superimposed on top of images of filled taco shells.

But back when phones were phones and gaming consoles were gaming consoles, Nokia unsuccessfully tried to combine the two into one monstrosity that came to be known as…

… the taco phone

Nokia released N-Gage in October 2003 as a competitor to the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo’s handheld console. The idea was that consumers would enjoy a console that doubled as a phone and an MP3 player, plus users could game with friends over cell or Bluetooth networks.

That idea was solid; the mobile gaming industry is expected to generate $98.7B+ in 2024.

But the N-Gage just didn’t work. It was shaped like a taco, which led to much ridicule. Beyond that:

  • Users had to remove the phone’s battery to insert game cartridges.
  • It also had to be disassembled again to use an MP3 player, which required another memory card that wasn’t included.
  • To use it as a phone, users had to hold it sideways, which looked very silly.
  • The buttons were clunky when gaming.
  • The phone was expensive at the time, retailing for $300 (~$500 today) — not including games.

Less than a month after launch, retailers including GameStop had slashed $100 off the price.

By 2005, Nokia admitted the N-Gage was not a winner, despite a better-designed 2004 version that also failed to take off.

Nokia continued to produce games through its N-Gage gaming platform through 2009, shuffling customers instead to its now-defunct Ovi app store.

BTW: Everyone knows Nokia’s best game was “Snake.” It debuted in 1997, and nostalgic fans can still play this online version.

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