One of the advantages of not being first to market with a particular kind of solution is that you can sit back and evaluate where your bleeding-edge competitors have fallen short, and then create distinctive solutions that not only resolve the first-movers' shortcomings but capitalize upon them.
With this in mind, at this month's CTIA show in Las Vegas I separately met with executives from Research in Motion and Nokia--two companies in just such a position. Both were on hand to promote their new mobile application marketplaces.
Nokia's Ovi Store and RIM's BlackBerry App World were designed to help spur user adoption of third-party applications and, in turn, more development. These stores are in large part a response to Apple's App Store, as well as to the Android Marketplace.
Although a giant success, Apple's App Store is not without problems, leaving plenty of opportunity for others to create distinction. The App Store has been fairly criticized for its secretive certification program: It has been consistently encumbered by slow turnaround of new or updated applications, limited notifications of certification status, and sometimes haphazard and other times monopolistic rejections of submitted applications.
Both RIM and Nokia are certainly sensitive to issues surrounding the application approval process.
Applications submitted for BlackBerry App World undergo reviews for content suitability and technical testing, but RIM representatives said that they are committed to turning submissions around in two weeks. Meanwhile, Nokia makes it clear that it submitted applications must be either Java Verified or Symbian-signed, must conform to Nokia's content policy and must pass through Nokia's own testing process on the devices the app claims to support.
Nokia has taken the interesting step of limiting who can develop for the Ovi Store for the time being. Specifically, developers must represent a corporate entity and provide a Tax ID number, so individual developers will be shut out from the Ovi store for the time being. Nokia representatives claim this is done solely to address the issue of developer payment in an international marketplace, and that as Nokia improves its backend business tools and processes, it will look at opening things up further.
As a user, one of my primary complaints about Apple's App Store has been one of discoverability. There are thousands of applications in the App Store, and honing in on what could be interesting to me has been an ongoing struggle. Apple's primary discovery tools--a list of Featured applications and a pair of Top 25 (expandable to Top 50) download lists (for-free and paid) provide limited guidance.
Search tools and categorical browsing are the other alternatives, and both require at least some knowledge of what you are looking for--or a lot of patience.
In iTunes, Apple used to produce what seemed to be an encompassing list of new releases in date order, which I would peruse a couple times a week to get a sense of what was newly available. Yet that list was scrapped in favor of a "What's New?" section of the Featured list, which highlights certain applications but does not dive deep into the new stock. With that chronological list gone, I found myself trying fewer applications and losing interest in wading through the App Store.
There's a great opportunity for these new application marketplaces to solve this shortcoming, but at first glance it appears only one vendor is even trying.
Early reviews of BlackBerry App World indicate that RIM's store is not ambitious in its efforts to guide users to cool or useful applications. The on-device App World experience is dominated by a one-at-a-time display of a few featured applications. Otherwise, as with the Apple App Store, users can browse categories, search for an application or view a list of top downloads.
Nokia, on the other hand, has developed what it calls the Relevancy Engine, which will feed a stream of content deemed appropriate to Ovi Store users. The Relevancy Engine will recommend applications or other content based on the type of device the user has or what the user's contacts have installed on their own Nokia devices.
Later this summer, Nokia also plans to add a place dimension, collecting users' location from the cell network or GPS receiver to feed applications or content relevant to where the user is located.
With these tools in place, Nokia then hopes to build an auction system for placement within the Ovi Store, allowing application developers to pay for placement based on the type of device and network a user could have.
While I worry a bit about such pay-for-play schemes devolving into blanket recommendations that really have little to do with me, if the sponsored placement stays grounded in my details--what I carry and where I am--I'm at least willing to give it a try.
eWEEK Labs Senior Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at [email protected].