While a portable gaming device specifically created to provide MMO players gaming on the go might sound like a spectacular idea, Panasonic's Jungle might be more trouble than it's worth.
The Jungle really does sound like an excellent product at first glance. What's not to like about a handheld computer gaming device that folds up into a form factor slightly thicker than the old fat Nintendo DS? Imagine being able to slip the Jungle out of your pocket anywhere you are, flip open the screen, and participate in a raid with your World of Warcraft guild.
It sounds like a dream, and it could indeed be dreamy, once you overcome the various hurdles necessary to get you there.
First off, the Jungle is rumored to run on Linux. There's stumbling block one.
We'll continue to use World of Warcraft as an example. World of Warcraft does not run natively on Linux. You cannot grab your World of Warcraft disc, slip it into a Linux machine, and click on go; it does not work that way.
That's not to say that World of Warcraft will not run on Linux. Linux users play World of Warcraft every day. How? They use programs like Wine, which allows Windows programs to run on Linux. It's not a simple thing, but that's to be expected. Linux is an operating system built to do things well, not simply.
Is your average World of Warcraft player up to the task? That's not likely. If Panasonic offered versions of the Jungle with World of Warcraft preloaded on them I might see the device capturing the hearts of a few players, but otherwise the complexity of getting their favorite game running might drive them back to their trusty laptops.
But isn't smaller better?
There is a big difference between pulling a device out of your pocket and flipping it open and unpacking and setting up a laptop. A laptop needs a nice stable surface to rest on, a place to plug in if your session runs long, and some sort of pointing device, as a touchpad is never a good alternative to a mouse.
The Jungle scores points for portability, but it also doesn't have a mouse. Instead, it sports a small touchpad and a directional pad, neither of which serve as capable mouse alternatives. It features a full keyboard, but it's a very small full keyboard. When you're firing off healing macros, you can't afford to press the wrong keys.
And then there's the screen.
From what Gizmodo has heard about the Jungle, the screen is absolutely gorgeous. "The screen resolution is bananas. Everyone was freaking out about it," said one visitor to PAX last month who saw the device in action. High resolution is lovely, but small is still small. I have trouble seeing the text in my World of Warcraft chat box at normal resolution. I can't imagine having much fun squinting at text flying by on the Jungle's tiny screen.
Amidst my negativity, I can still see the potential benefits of the Jungle shining down through the thick canopy of down sides.
It's still a portable Linux computer that fits in your pocket. That alone is reason enough to get hobbyists interested. It sounds like an upgraded version of the Pandora, a Linux gaming handheld that's proven so popular the creators can barely keep up with production.
The Jungle is being marketed as a portable MMO player, meaning it will also have some sort of Wi-Fi connection built-in, and potentially even 3G, though I don't fancy trying to run World of Warcraft over a 3G connection.
The one aspect of the Jungle that really captures my imagination, however, is the rumored HDMI port. Toss in a USB port, chain together a mouse and keyboard, and hook this baby up to your television, and you've got one amazingly small dedicated MMO PC.
Having just been announced, the Jungle has plenty of time to prove itself.
There are still many unknown factors that could make or break Panasonic's portable game player. Will publishers get behind it, offering versions of their games in Jungle-friendly formats? What sort of interface will it sport? How much will it cost?
Right now there are too many missing pieces to the Jungle puzzle. What we're seeing so far is a somewhat clunky little gadget that might end up being more complicated than useful. We'll see how the full picture shapes up once Panasonic begins filling in the blanks.