Nokia has flung back the shutters and officially opened its Ovi Store for business, offering free and for-sale mobile applications, games, productivity tools, videos and podcasts for more than 50 Nokia phone models.
Shoppers can access the Ovi Store through their mobile browser, or, in some countries, download the store's icon to their devices. The mobile client is available in English, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish, and operator billing is currently available in Australia, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Singapore, Spain and the United Kingdom.
"Later this year" AT&T plans to make the Ovi Store available to its U.S. customers - growing its application store interests beyond those of the Apple iPhone's.
In opening the Ovi Store, Nokia puts itself into the ring with Apple and its highly successful Apple App Store - which reached 1 billion downloads before its first birthday. Google also has an application store for Android mobile apps, the Android Market, Microsoft has its freshly opened Windows Marketplace for Mobile, and Research In Motion opened the BlackBerry App World in April.
Mobile applications is a growing, lucrative category that mobile marketers are working to better understand and take advantage of. Research firm In-Stat expects application store users to exceed 100 million in five years.
Forrester analyst Thomas Husson, blogging on the Ovi Store, has written that its success depends on "the quality of the execution, the strength of the Ovi brand, the reaction of operators, [and the] willingness of Nokia to establish direct relationships with operators."
The Ovi Store is available to an estimated 50 million device owners, according to Nokia's count, and Husson writes that "one of the main advantages for Nokia will be the potential large scale of mobile devices [that] developers could tap into."
Carolina Milanesi, a research director with Gartner, points out that Ovi somewhat separates itself from the Apple App Store in that Ovi offers both applications and content.
"The addressable market it is offering is in theory much larger than the iPhone one, but we need to remember that not every user of an N-series or S60 device is comparable to an iPhone user," Milanesi told eWEEK.
"This means that although the actual pull for the devices is much bigger, the actual addressable market for applications is going to be smaller than that. Nokia can leverage the developer community it has developed with Forum Nokia."
Since first introducing Ovi, Nokia has de-emphasized its social networking side, which was originally planned to be part of its unique appeal. Nokia is instead focusing on already well-established networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, says Milanesi.
She adds that Nokia "also has developed an offering that takes advantage of location, as well as social networking, in the way that applications are offered."
According to a statement from Nokia about Ovi, "Additional countries, languages, devices and features will be added throughout the year."