Symbian App Store

I could not really go any longer without a review of the Ovi or Symbian app store... especially given the launch of the amazing Nokia pureview 808 which will undoubtedly attract more, fresh eyes to the Ovi store in the meantime... which should hopefully bring Instagram, with its new found post takeover $1Bn as well as some other key social and imaging apps in the coming future...
The pureview will attract some demanding eyes back to Ovi, and deserves some killer apps
For me, Nokia was my first experience of an app store, in the shape of Nokia Beta Apps back in 2005/2006. Then, the moniker "beta" was fashionable, I believe Google search still had the words "beta" alongside its title, or if not, had only recently lost it.
Pre iPhone; 1st app to be a USP for a device
The Nokia N80 and then Nokia N95 were, for me the first modern smartphones, in that despite the Sony Ericsson P800/P900s being before, the Nokias actually had official apps that you could download and use and became USPs. The first of which for me was sports tracker, then the blogging app, geotagger, for photos, iPlayer that let you download and watch TV on the plane (why, oh, why, oh why can I not do that today on tablets???) and more, but sports tracker had colleagues going: wow, that's a great feature, can I do that with any Nokia or do I need to buy that one... OK, so it was not a full app store, by any stretch, and of course, Apple then perfected leveraging apps and the store to do just this, more crucially they outsourced the development and capture the imagination of the developers, mainly though a 1 phone, 1 device, 1 screen, 1 set of APIs strategy, while Nokia and the rest were for some reason obsessed with having anything but 1 phone that does all...

Then came the Ovi name, this caused quite a stir in 2007. Operators were used to buying phones and throwing away all the crap that manufacturers put on them, despite this being to the dismay of their customers, because of course, in the operators mind they owned the experience. But to own the experience you need to create the experience, and while great bold moves like Vodafone live had captured customers imagination, it neither kept them nor had moved with the times, and apple was coming. In short, Nokia were right: operators and handset manufacturers has spent years and a small fortune promoting smartphones and mobile internet, but nothing was happening, somebody had to make a move, and of course, it was the grand daddy of mobile: Nokia.

So what happened?

Well, bold moves, need bold execution. Also, innovation is ephimerous if it stands still: you can launch the best product of them all, but if it does not move on it will die quicker than a may fly (relatively speaking!) and this is where is went a bit awry... the key issues was platforms, and screens. In 2007(ish) Nokia stood up and said, gone are the 300 models, we now have the N series, the N70, N91 and ....N... then a little while later we have the N71, and the N90, then we started back with the 3250 (allegedly the 3250 and N91 the same SKU according to Java development specs... yeah right!) and then the E series and.... oh dear.... and then we had Symbian S60 X edition, y edition, z edition service pack 1,2 and 3... and then thee screens, all different.

So in short, where Apple came and said, one great device, a high-end market, the same OS and screen, and fixed launch dates; Nokia had at least 30 S60 devices and growing, releases launching late (N91) handsets coming from nowhere (N72) and screens all over the place (N80 vs. N91 vs. N95) on so many different versions and service packs of the core software even I had trouble keeping up and I was managing app launches on these devices.

Years later


So years later I come back for a second look (2010-2012). I have an eagerly awaited but again late an d disappointing N8, a launched-from-nowhere but actually very good C7 and a could-not-be-bothered X6, and for good measure I still have one of the best phones of all time: the E72 for some non-touch screen evaluation.

Firing up the various phones reveals different stores for different devices, which is surprising, and somewhat disappointing if you have an X6... The overall scheme is very familiar and simple, even too simple sometimes as it feels very "wap" at times

OVO apps Screen from the C7
The special Gift from Nokia was a nice touch to get a user involved. One major point that is often overlooked by many, and the reason the likes of HTC did app discovery stores, is to get users on board. Apple already had this via iTunes, where it had already forced its users' to hand over personal details, Android had the same via the various google products, and to some extent Microsoft had it as well with passport... Nokia's golden goose here has been its navigation products that forced us to create an Ovi relationship. Despite this, a "free" gift is a great way to get people on board an looking at premium content.
Familiar tabs to scroll by sub category
The featured section at the top however, does little to tempt us, no screen, no add, no imagery, just an icon...  which brings us to the search and update icons at the bottom look tremendously familiar and very Apple, but that is mostly just because this is an intuitive format more than anybody being copied, but featured, categories and top X apps would have been better along here, at least on the C7. I understand that these extra buttons may not fit all screens, but if you are going to have different versions for different users then at least???

There is no point putting the lesser experience of the X6 here, as to be honest, if you have an X6 the app store is probably not on your list of priorities, but for the C7, N8 at least the experience was sufficient, however the choice is just not there, even with the free premium ones to tempt you from Android or Apple, or to be honest, even from Microsoft, which while a shame on one hand, reinforces the move to Microsoft as a good thing, and look forward to seeing how the two sit side by side when the Ovi name disappears at the end of the year, however, I still feel that a lot could be done with a little to make the experience so much better, especially now its clear that:
  1. higher end apps will be on Microsoft
  2. lower end emerging market on Symbian, except for pure view..
  3. app developers will now be expanding their reach, and Java at least, if not native Symbian, will be a potential catalogue filler, as screen sizes and SKUs of Nokia's 100,000s if not billions of emerging market devices normalize to the 2 or 3 Nokia Asha formats
But will the pure view be enough to warrant a last stand for the ovi store, or will it come with instragams, pinterests and similar just embeded? It would be nice to think, as a fan, that the the former will be the case!

I shall be updating this article as more interactions with clients and colleagues provide more scenarios, and will announce those changes here at my Google+ and my company, Virtuser's Google+ or like Virtuser on Facebook for updates