It may not be the most high-profile announcement around, but Nokia's Ovi Store may affect millions more mobile phone users than Apple's App Store ever will, 25,000 apps be damned.
At least that's the impression that I got last week after sitting down with Nokia's VP for Product Media, George Linardos, and company spokesman Chris Morse at ZDNet HQ to find out the intentions behind their latest product announcement, the Ovi Store one-stop app shop.
To recap: Nokia's Ovi Store intends to "offer consumers relevant, targeted media through their social connections and their physical location information," according to the company. What that means is that Nokia's Adobe Flash-based content vehicle will distinguish itself by offering content based on your location and your contacts in your address book.
Tailored content by locationTaking a page from Google's playbook, Nokia will surface content within the Ovi Store based on those two specs of location and contacts. For example, Linardos showed me how an executive getting off the plane in, say, Barcelona would see apps offering local travel information (think Lonely Planet), local language translation, area movie times and other relevant topics based on where the user is standing.
(How specific will it be? Remains to be seen how smart the engine will be. I'd like to know if "New York City" is one big location, or if it gives me movie times in Harlem when I'm standing in SoHo.)
That's another distinguishing approach, by the way -- instead of simply downloading the apps you think you need (such as a Spanish to English translator), Nokia will surface them for you (but also gives you the option to fetch content yourself).
Tailored content via contactsIn addition to location-based parameters, Nokia's Ovi Store will also use your contacts list to offer you relevant content, under the presumption that the people in your address book are people that you actually like. So if your buddy downloaded the movie "I Love You, Man" to his Nokia phone, Ovi Store will surface that on your phone. It won't be naggy -- it will just replace what could be a house advertisement, or other general content.
While this seems cool, it will again depend on how smart the relevance engine is. (After all, do you really want your 14-year-old daughter's latest preferences to surface on your phone all the time?)
Come to think of it, Nokia's taking a page from Facebook, too.
Wooing the dev communityLinardos was frank about Ovi Store's value proposition: "This is a business for us," as in Nokia will make money from the project. But with 70 percent revenue share -- as in developers take home 70 percent of net revenue (less refunds and sales tax) -- Linardos said it can be lucrative for developers, too with consideration to how wide content will be distributed via Nokia's global reach.
In addition to paying by credit card, users in seven or eight countries will also have operator billing.
Beginning this month, content providers, developers and existing Forum Nokia developers can begin uploading their content at publish.ovi.com to be the first to distribute their media through the Ovi Store.
To date, Fox Mobile, EA Mobile, Glu, Myspace, Qik and Facebook have already signed up as partners. Naturally, much of the content quality of the service will depend on how useful announced partners will be, so keep an eye out.
Enterprise partners will be announced soon, Morse said.
Global vs. local: confronting Apple where it countsIn a previous post, I noted that Nokia's Ovi Store puts it at odds with the current face of mobile app stores, Apple. It turns out that Nokia's strategy is a bit more nuanced than simply going head-to-head with Jobs and Co.
As we all know, Apple's bread-and-butter market is the United States, and its App Store is wildly popular here. Similarly, Nokia remains the world's most popular mobile phone manufacturer, and is generally the default choice of the rest of the world. So while it would be a high-profile battle waged in the U.S. market, Nokia is using its global leverage to reach millions more people than Apple by simply addressing the rest of the world.
That's not to say that Nokia won't be focusing on the United States, of course. But using the company's global reach proves to be a far more lucrative move for the Ovi Store, eventually reaching hundreds of millions of handsets, from the upcoming (June) Nokia N97, the first device to come preloaded with the Ovi Store, to the 50 million or so existing Nokia Series 40 and S60 devices, which will be Ovi-capable starting in early May.
"This never started as jumping into a trend," Linardos said, adding that the Ovi Store was, in some ways, a consolidation of legacy services such as MOSH, Widsets and Download! "It's a major inflection point for us."
At launch, Ovi Store will be available worldwide in English and language-localized for the U.S., U.K., Singapore, Australia, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Spain and Russia.
Nokia's not going to fight Apple directly. By doing so, it just might win.