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Nokia opens mobile app arms race vs. Apple; will it succeed?

Nokia is coming out swinging against Apple's popular App Store with its Ovi online store, which opens in May and has the potential to reach some 50 million consumers.Despite a fading presence in the U.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Nokia is coming out swinging against Apple's popular App Store with its Ovi online store, which opens in May and has the potential to reach some 50 million consumers.

Despite a fading presence in the U.S., Nokia remains the world's most popular cell phone manufacturer. To date, Apple has sold less than 20 million iPhones, and its App Store has had more than 500 million applications downloaded in just half a year.

Will Nokia succeed?

Despite Nokia's ubiquitous hardware around the globe -- hundreds of millions of people are Nokia customers -- Apple is a runaway success in the software download segment of the mobile business.

Worse, Nokia's slow-footed approach to touchscreen devices has allowed Apple to trounce Nokia in Apple's home market, the United States.

Like Apple, Nokia says it will give 70 percent of all download revenue to developers, if consumers pay by credit card. But developers will earn less per transaction if consumers opt to pay through their operators, an option that will initially be available in nine countries.

Research firm Strategy Analytics has forecast the value of the mobile content market -- including downloadable games, ringtones, wallpapers, video, mobile TV, text alerts and mobile web browsing -- to grow 18 percent to $67 billion this year, according to a report by Reuters.

Add Google Android Market, RIM's BlackBerry App World, Microsoft's Windows Marketplace for Mobile and overseas offerings from carriers such as Orange and competition is clearly heating up in the market segment.

Call it an arms race. But with better distribution channels than any other manufacturer, is Finland's largest company really a dark horse?

Nokia says it hopes to attract developers with a more liberal and faster approval process for reaching the store, while it aims to lure consumers by creating a personalized offering.

How? By deciding on publishing submitted content within a week, and allowing content from developers that competes with its own offerings.

Ovi will also offer a more "personalized" experience, taking your location and user habits to show you the most relevant content. Think a combination of Google AdSense and Apple Genius, but for your phone.

The problem, of course, is that with all of these operating systems flying around -- Nokia uses Symbian, Apple uses iPhone OS, RIM uses BlackBerry OS, Palm uses webOS, Microsoft uses Windows Mobile, and we can't forget about Google Android -- users face an increase in applications that use different platforms (and developers face alienating a portion of the market by not developing for multiple platforms).

The app marketplace is starting to resemble a full-blown shopping district. Can Nokia be the most popular booth at the bazaar?

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