Forum Nokia opens up on Ovi Store

With its Ovi Store application marketplace scheduled to launch this summer, Nokia is continuing to evolve beyond its traditional role as a handset manufacturer into what Forum Nokia head Rob Taylor described as "a solutions-focused company" during his opening keynote here at the Nokia Developer Summit 2009 conference in Monte Carlo. The mobile development community's role in that transformation was the focus of Nokia executive vice president of services Tero Ojanperä's subsequent keynote, which addressed both the creative and commercial opportunities that Ovi Store promises to deliver. "Ovi Store is all about discovery," Ojanperä told the 345 developers in attendance at the event. "In the past it's been difficult to distribute your applications. We'll make it easier."

What promises to distinguish Ovi Store from rival efforts like Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market is the concept Nokia calls "social location"--i.e., a more personalized and relevant user experience determined by locale, friend recommendations and related tools. "We started with maps, messaging, music, games and media, and now we're bringing those services together, connected by people and places," Ojanperä said. "Now you can see what your friends are listening to and where they are, and send them a message in that place. These are the kinds of connections that will be made possible by connecting these services."

According to Ojanperä, it's critical developers think of Ovi as a programming platform, not just a service. "We're going to expose and open Ovi through APIs in a completely new manner," he explained. "Look at Ovi as a platform you can develop applications on top of--to enhance the experience, and to build value." Ojanperä cited video and photo-based applications as a major opportunity for development possibilities, noting there are presently more than 500 million camera-enabled Nokia devices in the marketplace. He also emphasized location services, and said Forum Nokia would launch a new Calling All Innovators developer contest focusing on map-based applications.

The Ovi Store will arrive embedded on Nokia's forthcoming N97 smartphone, and accordingly, Forum Nokia additionally announced the release of the N97 SDK for Symbian OS 0.5, available for download here. Ojanperä touted the N97's new homescreen, which replaces the active idle screen seen on earlier S60 devices by enabling developers to create display views of their widgets and in turn allowing consumers to customize a homescreen experience that offers an instant overview of local weather, breaking news, sports scores and the like. "It's the first live homescreen that lives with you wherever you're going," Ojanperä said. "Now you can provide your customers with updates as constantly as you wish. For the first time ever, the user does not have to open the app--they can just pull out the device and glance at the new information on the screen. It's live. It's dynamic."

But Nokia's vision for the Ovi Store extends far beyond the N97, and even beyond smartphones--the company said it ultimately plans to offer applications optimized for all of the devices in its catalog, and will strive to foster a developer environment that cuts across platforms and leverages a large number of handsets. "We will work to make sure [Ovi Store] is not only a play for the high-end, but also for the low-end," Ojanperä promised. "Everyone loves apps. You love to have more in your phone. Content, in the end, is the only thing that matters." -Jason