BARCELONA--Nokia is taking on smartphone rival Apple with its own version of an application store.
On Monday, the world's largest cell phone maker, which has been losing market share at the high end to devices like Apple's iPhone, announced here at the GSMA Mobile World Congress 2009 that it will follow Apple and a few other handset makers in launching a virtual storefront where developers can upload applications and consumers can easily download them.
The news of Nokia's Ovi Store is hardly a shock. Several news agencies had reported that the company was expected to announce the store here at MWC.
Nokia said at the press conference that the store will be open for business starting in May. Nokia's flagship smartphone, the N97, will be the first Nokia device to have the application store software pre-integrated. The N97, which was announced in December, goes on sale in June.
The company added that other Nokia phone users, including those using S40 and S60 phones, will be able to download the application storefront starting in May.
Developers, who will get a 70 percent cut of revenue from the store, will be able to start loading applications to the Ovi.com Web site starting in March. Several content owners have already started working on applications for the store, including AccuWeather, Facebook, Rough Guides, Lonely Planet, Electronic Arts, Fox Mobile, and MySpace.
Nokia says it will eventually make the application store available to all of its Nokia phones, and it will begin rolling it out globally in the fall.
Nokia's announcement follows the big success of Apple's App Store, which provides applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Other smartphone makers have also jumped on the bandwagon with their own application stores. Google launched one for its Android phones and Research In Motion plans to have one up and running for its BlackBerry devices. Microsoft, maker of the Windows Mobile operating system, is also expected to announce its application "bazaar" at Mobile World Congress this week, too.
But Niklas Savander, executive vice president of services and software for Nokia, said at a press conference here Monday that the Ovi application store is different from the others.
"This is not just a place to find applications," he said. "It's a smart store. That is not just for smartphones. 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."
For one, the store is not limited to providing applications for smartphones. Eventually, all Nokia devices will be able to access some applications from the store.
"It's not only about smartphones anymore," he said. "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 2 percent of mobile users who are already using applications to switch. But it's about addressing the 98 percent that will soon start using applications."
More importantly, Savander said Nokia plans to provide a more relevant and contextualized experience through its store than its competitors have done. For example, Nokia will use GPS technology built into phones to provide location relevant content.
The store will also track applications that users are downloading and it will be intelligent enough to suggest other applications that might be of interest. And finally, it will also provide relevant applications based on what friends have downloaded.