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Smartphone Experts Roundtable Podcast 3

SPE Roundtable

Join Dieter, Matthew, Kevin, Rene, and Casey as they discuss Mobile World Congress 2009 — there’s a little bit for everybody in this gigantic cross-platfrom smartphone podcast!

Show notes after the break.

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Hands On: Nokia N86

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I got a chance to get some hands-on time with the just-announced Nokia N86.  Its headline feature is an 8 megapixel camera with a Carl Zeiss lens and a mechanical shutter.  The hardware is top notch down to the smallest detail.  The entire front of the device is tempered hard glass, there’s stainless steel around the rim as well.  The applications button down on the lower-left is also stainless steel, but Nokia has drilled miniscule holes in to ensure that it’s backlit and you can see it in the dark.  I was especially impressed with the 2.6″ OLED screen, which was very bright and crisp.  In short, Nokia spent quite a bit of time on the industrial design of the N86 and it shows.

Read on for more details and a photo gallery

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More on the Ovi Store from Mobile World Congress

ovistore
Greetings all, I’m honing in on Matthew’s turf as I slowly try to get to a place where I can earn the title “Nokia Expert.” I’m a long way off, but I think I came a little further today. I had the opportunity to meet with George Linardos, VP Product Management for Media at Nokia. He walked me through the the Ovi Store‘s new features, their incredible recommendation engine, and the details of the rollout.

The Ovi Store is slated to begin to be available in early May either as a download or an OTA update. As the service progresses they’ll offer it on a wider variety of phones. The first phone it will ship on-device with is the N97 in June, followed by a range of devices throughout the Fall and beyond. It will be compatible with all S60 devices and about three quarters of Series 40 devices.

If you’re curious as to how the Ovi Store compares to that other app store, read on for some pleasant surprises (hint: it blows the iTunes App Store out of the water).

Some History

I’ll start a little slowly (as Linardos needed to with me). Historically, Nokia has offered three major download services on their devices. Download!, which is currently on over 200 million handsets and offers the ability to download apps and games; Widsets, which offers web-widgets; and Mosh, which offers a variety of user-generated content.

All three have had ‘varying’ levels of success but what they have done is give Nokia some excellent learning experiences. It’s important to note that Nokia’s handsets out in the world number in the hundreds of millions and Nokia strives to learn as much as they can about the needs of every single one of those users. They’ve taken that knowledge and used it to create the Ovi Store, which will merge the previous three services into a single service (they will all eventually be phased out).

What Nokia has primarily learned is that people become much much more likely to find and purchase content they’re actually interested in the closer that content is “to the surface” of the device. The fewer clicks it takes to get to the content, the better it does. That’s as long as it’s the right content. More on what the “right content” is in a moment, as it’s the key to the Ovi Store’s potential success.

What is the Ovi Store?

The Ovi Store, as you might expect, is an App Store. It’s also a content store, offering personalization options like ringtones, wallpapers, and themes. It’s also an audio & video store, offering downloadable content.

The Ovi Store is developed on Nokia’s web runtime technology rather than as a Java or directly native S60 app. Linardos explained that they went with that route because it means that Nokia will be able to make changes to the store without having to worry about device compatibility or pushing updates out to handsets — which makes plenty of sense to me.

The “Right” Content

Nokia has spent the bulk of their time on the Ovi Store developing what you might call a “Relevancy Engine.” What this does is solve a significant problem: how do you find the stuff you actually want? Nokia’s answer is to use their sophisticated engine to ensure that stuff you’re interested in gets pushed “to the surface” so you can find it more easily.

Since we’re talking App Stores here, the context will inevitably be Apple’s App Store. By far the biggest problem with Apple’s Store is that it’s getting harder and harder to find the good apps, the apps you actually want, in a sea of junk. Nokia contends (and I agree) that a simple “most popular” list isn’t really enough to help.

Instead, Nokia applies a series of filters in the on-device store:

  • What works: When you view the Ovi Store on your Nokia device, you will only be presented with content and apps that are actually compatible with your device.
  • What your friends like: If you like, you can toggle a feature (you can also toggle it off) that allows the Ovi Store to broadcast your downloads to your friends and also to see what your friends have downloaded. Think of it like finding out about good movies or music by talking to your friends. If you have a particular contact you know is really into games, for example, you can go and see what games she has downloaded recently and get them yourself.
  • Where you are: If your Nokia phone can determine your location, the Ovi Store will present content that’s relevant to it. Just landed in a brand new city? The Ovi Store may present you with a city guide or a language translator.

Later on, Linardos says Nokia intends to add another feature I asked about immediately: some sort of “Maven” feature. If there’s somebody who isn’t necessarily in your contacts but whose opinion you value (like, say, a blogger named Matthew), if he chooses to broadcast his Ovi content you’ll be able to see what he’s downloaded as well.

The Ovi Store also is able to tell what sorts of apps or content you tend to prefer, somewhat similar to Netflix’s recommendation engine. If you have downloaded a lot of content related to, say, The Dark Knight, it’s likely that Ovi will guess that you’re also interested in Iron Man.

Of course, if you prefer, you can navigate the Ovi Store by traditional categories, popularity lists, and the like. From the way it’s been described to me, the Ovi Store sounds like it has a very innovative relevancy engine and will solve a real problem for users.

What About Developers?

I already brought up the Apple App Store so I may as well bring it up again: the App Store suffers from a real problem where developers don’t know whether their apps will be accepted and how that acceptance process goes.

The Ovi store is much simpler. Starting on March 2nd, developers and content-creators can being uploading their content at http://publish.ovi.com. When you create your account there, you will be able to choose from a wide variety of options for your app: whether to have customers pay by credit card or via the carrier, how much to charge, etc.

Nokia pays developers 70% minus one of two fairly fixed fees. If you chose to have customers pay by credit card, there’s a fixed fee for that. If you choose to have customers pay via their carrier, it’s a little more complicated (generally the carrier takes 40-50% depending on cost). The bottom line is the Ovi Store will present you with a fixed cost instead of what has traditionally happened with this method: a confusing spreadsheet detailing which carriers took what depending by region, date, and phases of the moon (I exaggerate, but you get the idea).

Nokia ‘s process for accepting content also looks to be a sight more transparent than Apple’s. They’ll run apps through a virus scan and make sure they’re either Java Certified or Symbian Signed, they’ll QA the app to make sure it doesn’t crash devices, and then they’ll moderate for things like pornography or hate speech. Then, it’s out — no questions of whether or not the app competes too directly with Nokia’s own apps. They’re simply more open.

The biggest downside for developers right now is that, at launch, you must be a “company entity* in order to get your content and apps into the Ovi Store. This isn’t too surprising because the Ovi Store is launching globally and tax laws are so many and varied across the world that Nokia needs to start there. Eventually they intend on opening up the store to individual developers without a tax ID.

Wrapping up

A few more quick details: There will also be a desktop website where you’ll be able to browse and review apps and have them pushed to your device. To ensure device compatibility, Nokia doesn’t allow for “sideloading” of apps from the Ovi Store.

Linardos couldn’t guarantee that the Ovi Store would be available on every device on every carrier across the world (some carriers may balk at losing revenue), but noted that Nokia signed a deal with T-Mobile globally to make it happen on their networks. It’s also notable that outside the US many Nokia devices are sold outside carrier channels and they will feature the Ovi Store.

In all, it sounds like the Ovi Store is going to be very impressive. We’ll have to wait and see how it actually works, but the relevancy engine really does seem like it’s going to solve a significant problem for users by making sure the content and apps they’re actually interested in are easier to find.


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