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Monday, January 31, 2005

Tapwave versus the Man. That man being Sony.

Call it kismet, but shortly after my desire for a portable and social gaming platform that I could develop for without taking out a loan of my house (which would be interesting to say the least, since I don't own it and only pay rent for the first floor), I have an online discussion with someone about some C++ functionality. Knowing most people only via Unrealscript, I asked what he was doing - and he was developing for the Tapwave Zodiac.

I remember the Zodiac coming out and I kinda remember thinking about getting one. Then it sorta came and I never heard about it and through pure lack of peer pressure I more or less forgot about it. I'm a bad boy. I ended up getting a Game Boy Advance. Seriously, I suck.

If you think I'm being overly dramatic go do some googling on the product. Words like impressive are bandied about like pez and reviewers seem to just get sucked into the device. It's far more functional than the GBASP or Nintendo DS, with robust MP3 and internet apps right out of the box. It's more of a PDA than the PSP will ever try to be, built right on top of Palm OS (and for anyone who remembers the old Palm Fansite Hijacked ... that was me, so you know I feel about Palm devices). It's got two ... count em two SD slots which will allow you to massively upgrade the thing. It might not have the graphics of the PSP, but it's definately no slouch - the ATI chip nestled inside seems to be able to pull off graphics edging to the DS level of nifty. You might be afraid that a PDA you'd never heard of had zero games for it - but you'd be wrong. Duke Nukem, DooM, Tony Hawk - they've all made appearances. And if you do get a hankering to develop for it - Tapwave seems more than friendly about helping you out ... and it won't cost you the purported $15,000 for a PSP SDK.

I'm seriously contemplating getting one. But it will be a shame to see Sony come in and crush it like so many grapes.

The Zodiac costs over $250, over $300 for the high end version. See, Tapwave is a company of just a few joes and they don't have a diversified multinational corporation to subsidize their hardware. I'm sure if they could jam the power of an XBox into your fist and only charge $50 for it, they would - but my guess is that the only banks that would fund such a venture have direct ties to offshores and sharks.

But just because it isn't the most powerful gaming handheld on the market doesn't mean it might not be the best. Sony might have the slicker, meatier product - but they also hold all the cards with it. You have to go through Sony to develop for it. PSP has custom OS with a more or less clean slate ... unlike Palm's massive library. The Zodiac sounds far more rugged - no flying discs here. Zodiac has a slick bluetooth implentation. Oh heck, I could go on forever. Basically the Zodiac sounds superior in nearly everyway but three. 1) It's more expensive. 2) The graphics aren't quite as robust. 3) It doesn't have the massive juggernaught which is Sony behind it.

So right here and now these guys get my vote as underdog of the year.


Winkyboy said...

I'm guessing they're probably going to stay just one or two steps ahead of the Nokia N-Gage... Maybe in something like this pecking order:

1. Nintendo DS / Sony PSP (tie) (cheap and popular)
2. GBA (rapidly climbing down the ladder, old tech.)
3. Tapwave Zodiac (CAPABLE. Overlooked for no reason)
4. N-Gage QD (one word: proprietary)

And somewhere in the list, I'd PERSONALLY stick in the Windows PDA* with emulators. It's an expensive entry, but there's so many options for it.

(*Especially the latest IPAQ/T-Mobile phone)

B said...

Come on in, the water's fine! Tapwave needs all the developers it can get. It's tough to put a finger on how many Zodiacs Tapwave has sold because they're a private startup and aren't obligated to reveal that information. However, with the recent expansion to the UK, Singapore and South Korea, I would think that the Zodiac user base is expanding slowly but surely. Tapwave isn't going to sell the numbers that Nintendo or Sony will with the DS and PSP, but I think they're doing a good job of carving out their own small piece of the pie, and doing it cautiously, incrementally, and frugally to achieve profitability. Tapwave's leadership are all seasoned industry pros, and they're in it for the long haul.

Like you said, the barriers to entry (cost & control) associated with developing for the DS and PSP are a turn off for your average developer, unless your EA of course. Fortunately, there are a number of middleware tools that can help Zodiac developers create some quality games, and even develop across platforms easily. Personally, I'm really excited about the cross platform games like Stunt Car Extreme, which is supposed to allow PPC, Gizmondo and Zodiac owners to play against each other over a Bluetooth connection.

Please keep us updated on your ultimate decision, there are a lot of Zodiac owners, myself included, who would be thrilled to see more support from developers.