Friday, December 19, 2008

Yes Dear, There Will Be a Gizmondo, Just Not This Year... And It Will Be Different

As you may have suspected by now, there will be no launch of the new Gizmondo in December, but it's not because of any evil shenanigans on Carl Freer's part. It was the financial crisis that killed his ambition to bring out the revived Gizmondo in time for Christmas.

I suspected for a while that at least some of his investors might have taken a beating in the global financial meltdown, and that that was the explanation for why we never saw the promised new Gizmondo web site (should have been up by mid-October) and why November passed without any news about Gizmondo, only to be followed by a very quiet (Giz-wise) December. I was to busy with other reporting to pursue my Gizmondo track, but late November I emailed Carl Freer and told him that if you don't come out with an explanation soon, you will be gobbled up in the blogosphere. He said okay, and we decided to meet on December 2nd, which turned out to be the same day that the news about the disappearance of the Danish IT-entrepreneur/suspected swindler Stein Bagger hit the fan so to say. And Carl Freer was of course immediately linked to the case by Danish and Swedish media, which smelled a chance to finally nail Mr. Freer to the wall (they are not that into crosses in Scandinavia).


Carl Freer, December 2008

The sudden media storm made me fear that Carl might want to back out of the meeting, but there he was, greeting me with a big smile, and giving me a three hour interview/presentation in presence of his new president, Doug Toth, Ivan Kozhuharov, CTO, and James Hunt, who these days besides representing the British liquidators, is a consultant to Media Power.

I had a long list of questions, and they had some serious demo's to show off. (More about that in a later report).

The only no-show was the new Gizmondo.

"Unfortunately, we’ve had to reschedule the launch of Gizmondo. It's due to the economic climate in the U.S., as well as in the rest of the world. It has affected us in our ability to fund and get funded in regards to the manufacturing of components," Carl Freer explained.

"We’ve had some very, very 'touch and go' moments here for three months. It has affected everyone. I was at one point thinking of abandoning the whole project, because I didn’t see a way out of it; a way to fund it. I don’t have half a billion dollars or 300 million dollars. You can only try and do your best," he told me.

The Chinese company that was going to build the new Gizmondo, and already had shipped a first small batch, were dragging their feet, probably because of the financial downturn, and this left Carl Freer and his team increasingly frustrated. What they did then was to rethink the whole project, and start to look for alternative ways of getting the Gizmondo to the market. They hired a "scrubber" in Shenzhen, China to locate OEM-manufacturers that might want to work with Media Power. But going down this path required a redesign of the Gizmondo, so the new Gizmondo Carl Freer is working on right now will use an existing chip set, like the ones you can get from companies like HTC. The idea is to add functionality to smartphone device and add an advanced 3D graphics chip, probably not Nvidia, but the OMAP3 from Texas Instruments. With a new PCB, they could then stuff the electronics into a new package. Carl Freer told me that he still likes the original shape of the Gizmondo, but is open to the possibility that the new one will be different.
"It’s a question and one that I’ve been battling with. In an ideal world, I would like to have the same design, because I am affectionate and feel part of that. I would have liked to have the same design, but the reality is that we can’t fit all the new componentry we need on that size chip set."

The key thing is not the shape, but the open platform.

"If you look at gaming devices today, they consist mainly of the Sony PSP and the Nintendo DS. There are a few other renegades, the Game Park and so on, but what we are talking about is creating a fully wireless Pocket PC, one that also has a gaming engine. There is nothing out there in the market that has the open source AppStore compatibility that we are talking about. I believe that the majority of games for the Xbox soon will be sold through Xbox Live. This will make connectivity more important than retail, so the Apple AppStore, and the Xbox Live is very, very interesting. Could you imagine if Xbox had an open platform, and we could build games and just post them, and see if they sell? It’s the same kind of mentality behind what Android is putting up now. In fact, Android has arguably less restrictions than Apple, but you still have to submit and they have to put their little finger on it," he said verbatim.

The new Gizmondo will come in two versions, Windows CE and Linux based Android. And as it will be built on a smartphone platform, it will have a phone! But, it will not cost 99 dollars, for the simple reason that it costs more to by from OEM's than if you have a large manufacturer who can build everything from scratch.

Santa, or at least Carl Freer, does however have some good news for at least some of Gizmondo's fans. He told me that owners of the original Gizmondo will be able to trade it in for the new batch he got from China before the world went belly up.

Ho, ho, ho!

Hans Sandberg

Correction Dec 29, 2008: Carl Freer changed his statement about online sales of Xbox games in response to feedback from a reader who challenged his statement that a majority of Xbox games are sold online. This is not the case today, but Carl Freer is optimistic about the switch in a near future from retail sales to online sales of games (that can be downloaded).

Teknik360 report about the delay of the new Gizmondo

Here is a link to my first report for Teknik360.se, which is a new IDG news site in Sweden.

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