Nokia to offer apps based on user location, friends

The new Nokia applications store offers innovative social-networking features.

Nokia plans to introduce an applications store, initially accessible to about 50 million people, with some innovative social-networking features.

The Ovi Store will open in May, and most people using S60 and S40 devices will be able to use it.

"It's a service that feeds you a constantly refreshing feed of content, personalized to you," said George Linardos, vice president of product management for media at Nokia.

Users can opt for a social-networking component of the application store that shows them items that people in their contacts list have recently bought. Friends don't "have to go through this old-school process of hitting share and entering an e-mail address," Linardos said. Instead, items such as games or videos appear at the top of the store, telling the user which friends have recently downloaded the content.

"You're not just browsing for things to buy, but you're being fed content you want," he said. "No two people in theory are ever really seeing the same content."

The store, which Nokia planned to announce on Monday at the Mobile World Congress, will also automatically feature applications based on location. For example, if a user flies to London, when the user gets off the plane the application store will highlight content that might be useful and relevant, such as London restaurant guides or Lonely Planet city guides.

Those personalization features are aimed at solving a problem that some of the application stores, like Apple's iPhone App Store, are facing now that they have tens of thousands of applications. With such a high volume of products to choose from, users struggle to find interesting and quality applications. Users of the Ovi Store won't have to use the social-networking component and can also browse by category.

The store has another unique feature: It will only display applications that work on the user's phone. That's key because Nokia phones come in a wide range of form factors, and some applications may not render well on all devices.

The N97 will be the first phone to come preloaded with the software for the store, and thereafter all S60 and most S40 Nokia phones will have it. By 2012, Nokia, the number-one maker of mobile phones, expects that the store will reach 300 million users.

Nokia joins other handset makers that are launching new application stores. While Apple wasn't the first to offer such a store, its easy-to-use iPhone Apps Store popularized the notion of buying and downloading applications to phones. Now, new stores are either planned or already available for the Palm Pre, the Android G1 and BlackBerry devices. Nokia has by far the largest number of phones in use around the world, making its store attractive to developers looking for the opportunity to sell applications to the largest possible base of users.

Nokia plans to open the store in May in nine countries, with continued rollouts to other regions after that. Users will be able to pay either via credit card or potentially via their regular cellular bill, depending on their mobile operator and the application developer.

Prior to launching the store, Nokia on March 2 will open Publish to Ovi, a portal where content providers can publish their applications to the store.

Nokia already has 4 million registered users in its Forum Nokia developer program. But there hasn't really been a standard way for them to offer their applications, said Linardos.

In addition to those developers, content creators and Web companies are invited to offer applications and content to users. Facebook and MySpace say they will offer applications for Nokia phones, and Fox Mobile plans to offer various kinds of content through the store.

The developers can choose if they want users to pay through their operator or directly by credit card, and choose regions of the world where they want their application to be distributed.

Applications will pass through a quality assurance process that ensures they don't have viruses or contain illegal content, but otherwise Nokia won't prohibit applications.

Developers will receive 70 percent of the revenue from sales and the rest goes to Nokia.

The Ovi Store is essentially a combination of three existing Nokia services: Mosh, Download and WidSets. Once the store launches, Nokia will begin offering existing phone owners ways to download it, including over the air.

Nokia has increasingly been branching out beyond phone hardware, and at times its efforts appear to conflict with its operator partners, who sometimes offer similar services. Nokia has been talking to operators about the new Ovi Store and working with some of them to enable billing, Linardos said. Ultimately, the application store is a way for operators to collect more revenue from users, he noted.

Nokia is also learning some difficult lessons about the challenges of offering services. Last week, it announced in a blog posting that after a cooling system breakdown in one of its data centers, the company lost data including contacts and profile photos that users store online as part of the beta Ovi Contacts offering.

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Nancy Gohring

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