Two of the biggest mobile phone players join the app store stampede, with Windows Mobile and Nokia phones to get over-the-air software shops by mid-year.
Microsoft and Nokia will each launch a version of Apple’s iPhone App Store by mid-year. Both companies announced their plans and provided a preview of their respective stores at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona recently.
Both stores will offer over-the-air browsing, downloading and installation of apps directly onto a mobile phone, along with PC-based downloading for later ‘sideloading’ to a mobile during the next desktop sync session.
In common with the iPhone App Store, Microsoft and Nokia will host the service in exchange for a cut of revenue from the sales of commercial apps, although freebies will also appear on the menu. Nokia’s slice will be the same 30% as Apple charges its iPhone developers.
The Nokia Ovi Store will make its debut on the forthcoming N97 handset
Microsoft declined to specify the amount, but Scott Horn, General Manager for Microsoft’s Mobile Communications Business, told APC that “we will be very competitive (compared to Apple) and we think the developer community will be very happy with what we’re offering.”
Windows Marketplace for Mobile
Microsoft’s Windows Marketplace for Mobile, previously codenamed Sky Market, will go online around the middle of this year. The service will be baked into the new Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system and thus feature on all new Windows Mobile 6.5 handsets when those devices start appearing towards the end of 2009. However, Horn told APC it would first arrive as a public beta release for Windows Mobile 6.0 and 6.1 devices.
While other details remain sketchy, Horn confirmed that Microsoft would apply some form of control or ‘filtering’ over what apps are allowed onto the store. “We want to make sure the apps in the store are appropriate, and safe for children for example”.
Horn also confirmed that Windows Marketplace for Mobile would include a way for local carriers to promote their own services, such as GPS-based routing and navigation. “There’s definitely a role for the operators – we have some interesting options for the operators, many of whom have their own set of apps they want to showcase. We have an operator-friendly strategy.”
Happily, this will not be to the exclusion of applications that offer a low-cost or free alternative to the carrier’s own revenue-raking services. In a follow-up conversation with Todd Brix, Microsoft’s Senior Director for Mobile Services, APC was told that the layout of the marketplace would merely give prominence to applications from the carrier and the device manufacturer, based on the service automatically detecting each of those when the customer connects. Applications from third parties will still be available, albeit not sharing the same spotlight.
Nokia Ovi Store
Nokia’s Ovi Store, which the company says will make its European debut in May before a global rollout beginning in late 2009. The service will be available to Nokia phones using the Symbian S40 and S60 operating system, although they’ll need to first download an app store client. Future devices will have the app store browser built in, starting with the flagship N97 smartphone, which is due for local release in late 2009.
Nokia says its Ovi Store will use social networking and GPS location detection
to suggest specific applications to users
However, Nokia wants its Ovi Store to be smarter than a simple grocery list of apps. “This is not just a place to find applications” said Niklas Savander, executive vice president of services and software for Nokia, at the Ovi Store launch.
“It’s a smart store. It actually suggests things you might like and adds social location dynamics to show you relevant applications. And it shows you what your friends have bought. And it changes the inventory based on where you are.”
The social networking aspect of Nokia’s Ovi mobile services platform will be used to suggest to users applications which their friends have also installed. In addition, the GPS receiver built into an increasing number of high-end mobile phones will showcase applications based on your location.
Set foot in a different country and you’ll see a set of recommended apps such as tourist guides and quick language lessons, currency convertors and guides to the local public transport system, restaurants and bars (Nokia has already inked content deals with Lonely Planet and Rough Guides).
“Ovi Store learns what you use, and also where” Savander says. “It would be very unlikely that two users would have exactly the same content appearing on their phones”.
Nokia also wants to deliver these applications to every mobile phone user, not just the few with smartphones. “It’s not only about smartphones anymore. We must address the range of devices we have in the market from the high end to the low end. This is not necessarily about getting the two percent of mobile users who are already using applications to switch. It’s about addressing the 98 percent that will soon start using applications.”David Flynn attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona as a guest of Microsoft