Nokia rallies against Android, iOS onslaught

While improving its Ovi Store experience and developer relations are positive moves for the Finnish handset maker, it remains the underdog in a smartphone arena dominated by Apple and Android-based phones today, according to an analyst.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

Streamlining its development roadmap and improving its app store experience for users and developers are positive moves for Finnish phone maker Nokia. But these may not be enough to rein in its industry competitors, particularly the iPhone and smartphones based on Google's Android mobile operating system (OS), analysts argue.

Nick Dillon, analyst of devices and platform at Ovum, acknowledged that Nokia has recently made moves to strengthen its application offerings by improving its app distribution platform, Ovi Store. The Finnish outfit has also  introduced operator billing for purchases, as well as simplified its app development roadmap by standardizing it on Qt. That said, he noted that the phone maker "still has some work to do to catch up with the likes of Apple and [Google's] Android".

He pointed out that it was Cupertino that took the lead in taking mobile app development, discovery, distribution and monetization mainstream. Other handset manufacturers, including Nokia, have been playing catch-up since, he added.

App store race hots up
With regard to the earlier announcement by Nokia that its Ovi Store achieved 3 million downloads per day for the month of November, Dillon said this figure is likely to be "some way behind" both Apple's iOS and Android platforms. Furthermore, he pointed out that the 3 million figure does not just reflect application downloads, but includes other downloads such as ringtones, themes and wallpapers.

In comparison, he said Apple reported 10 million application downloads per day from its App Store, while Research in Motion (RIM) last week announced that 2 million apps were being downloaded per day from its App World store. And though Android has not reported any specific figures, the Ovum analyst reckons that it is "likely to be not far behind Apple and catching up".

That said, Dillon stressed that the focus should not be solely on the number of apps available and downloaded, as these are not necessarily the most important measure of the success of an app store. "The quality of apps available, how regularly certain apps are used, and how long these stay on a user's phone are probably more important metrics, though these [statistics] are clearly more difficult to [compile]," he added.

When quizzed, Kasey Farrar, global communications manager and head of media and content promotion communications at Nokia, told ZDNet Asia it is important to note the rate of growth that the Ovi Store is witnessing. He revealed that since its announcement of 3 million downloads at the end of November, the company has seen another 500,000 downloads per day added.

This is driven, in part, by the introduction of its newer smartphone devices such as the Symbian-based N8 device, he said in his e-mail.

"[User] engagement is higher in new devices such as our N8, which means that [download] numbers will only grow once the full range of our new Symbian smartphones hit consumers' hands," Farrar said.

Better handsets, more apps promised
Outlining the company's strategy to help put Nokia back on top of the smartphone heap, he explained that Nokia plans to strengthen its product portfolio to cater to the different consumer requirements and across multiple price points. At the same time, it will continue to grow its developer ecosystem to offer a better user interface and exciting, relevant content through the Ovi Store. "One cannot succeed without the other," he added.

Zooming in on Nokia's efforts to engage developers, Farrar pointed out that more than 400,000 developers had signed up for Forum Nokia--a dedicated portal for its mobile developer community--in the past 12 months.

Earlier, Niklas Savander, executive vice president and general manager of markets at Nokia, told ZDNet Asia that the company has inked partnership agreements with 91 telcos in 27 markets to introduce operator billing mechanisms in these markets' Ovi Stores. He explained that as not everyone is comfortable with using their credit cards to pay for mobile apps, such a move will help Nokia garner more consumers and, in turn, more app downloads, which will then entice developers to sign up with its platform.

Gartner's principal research analyst, Shalini Verma, noted that fostering good relations with carriers could be beneficial to the company's renaissance. She said mobile operators' more favorable stance toward the Finnish firm could also be from its perceived lack of threat compared with Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market.

"Nokia is still the world's largest mobile device vendor...and it has opportunities to offer mobile applications and services to both the low-end mobile and smartphone user groups," she added.

"Knockout" MeeGo handset needed
In September, the company unified its software development platform based on the Qt SDK (software development kit), to allow developers to write an app that will work on both Symbian and MeeGo Oses. This will help reduce development time and cost of porting apps between both platforms, Nokia's Farrar noted.

Ovum's Dillon said that moving to Qt is a "smart move" for the Finnish company as it "future-proofs" developers' investments.

That said, he pointed out that since there are no MeeGo devices in the market today, the ability to run apps on the OS has "very little appeal for developers right now".

"While the N8 is an important handset for Nokia, it will be absolutely crucial for the company to launch a knockout device running MeeGo in 2011, as this will not only show the market that [the company] is still capable of competing at the top, but also giving developers a compelling reason to develop on Qt," Dillon stated.

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