Tapwave terminates Zodiac

Company and its multimedia handheld are no more; crowded market, limited library contribute to their doom.

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This week, the portable gaming industry lost another member. Tapwave, a Mountain View, California-based company, announced that it has gone under this week, taking its Zodiac multimedia handheld with it.

On a post on Tapwave's official Web site, a solemn message reads: "We are sorry to inform you that the Zodiac business was discontinued and service and support are no longer available as of July 25th 2005."

The Palm OS-based Zodiac combined all the functions of a personal digital assistant with high-performance mobile gaming. The unit, which was released in late 2003, received fairly high critical marks for its combination of performance and functionality.

However, the market was not as kind as the critics. With the Game Boy Advance still the top handheld by a large margin, and with Sony's PSP and Nintendo's DS duking it out for second place, the Zodiac was relegated to a tiny sliver of the portable pie. Even there it had competition in the form of Nokia's less-than-popular N-Gage phone/game deck hybrid.

However, lacking Nokia's near-bottomless war chest, Tapwave was fighting a David-and-Goliath battle...without any rocks. The game's library was limited to fewer than 20 titles, many of which were ports of years-old PC games.

The Zodiac's demise is a mixed blessing for Tiger Telematics, the Jacksonville, Florida-based maker of the forthcoming Gizmondo handheld. Already available in the UK, the Gizmondo has Windows CE-based PDA functions similar to the Zodiac, GPS, and it has a wider variety of games. So while the Zodiac's demise means one less competitor to the Gizmondo, which is slated to launch in the US in August, it also may convince potential investors that the handheld market is too treacherous at the moment.

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