Sizing up the Ovi Store five months on

LONDON--It's been five months since Nokia's Ovi Store opened for business, and on the eve of the Symbian Exchange and Exposition 2009 here, the handset maker held a media event to assess the Ovi ecosystem's progress so far. For one thing, Ovi Store isn't an app store at all according to Forum Nokia senior services marketing manager Bill Perry: "It's a content store that appeals to a broad demographic of users," he said. "Because it's shipping on devices, it makes it easier to get content onto the device." Perry added that consumers in over 180 countries and across more than 100 Nokia device models are now downloading content from Ovi Store, noting that in addition to global support for credit card billing, 27 carriers in eight countries have also signed on to support operator billing. That kind of international scope remains Ovi Store's biggest competitive advantage against rival retail efforts, Perry added--developers from 65 countries have submitted content so far, and he said that while music discovery app Shazam reached 60 countries via Apple's App Store prior to Ovi Store's late May launch, it was downloaded in 123 Ovi Store countries within 10 days after entering the marketplace. "There's no other play in the mobile space that can offer this [global reach] to developers and consumers," Perry said.

Nokia says it's now approving 500 new content items for distribution each week. But the company isn't disclosing the number of Ovi Store downloads or the total number of content units available to consumers, so it's impossible to gauge just how the store is faring so far. The company did respond to criticisms about the Ovi Store user experience: "We realize there are many things to make better in Ovi Store," said Nokia director of platform marketing Aapo Bovellan. "We wanted to create something that works across multiple devices and platforms, meaning we run into different obstacles than the other guys."

And while Nokia's presentations Monday heavily emphasized Ovi Store's geographic scale, stating that content is now available in six different languages, the social half of the effort's promised Social Location recommendation model was barely mentioned. I asked Perry about Social Location's evolution in an interview following the press event: "We're still shoring things up," he admitted. "Next year, our goal is to have a cohesive relevancy experience. When you're dealing with consumers' purchasing habits, you can't just flip a switch to make everything happen. But we are seeing user trends emerge as more applications get in to the store."

Nokia also will strive to elevate Ovi Store's awareness among consumers and developers alike. Marketing head Srinkanth Raju said the company plans to feature third-party applications in forthcoming promotional efforts, and is training retail representatives to walk customers through apps in-store--in addition, Perry said developers can expect "more outbound marketing and evangelism" as Nokia looks to woo programmers who've turned their energies elsewhere, with an emphasis on the company's "total addressable market." Nokia won't have trouble convincing developers it's bigger than its rivals--it's convincing developers that it's better that poses the real challenge. -Jason