Nokia's Ovi Store a Potential Apple, Google Challenger

Nokia's Ovi Store offers mobile applications for download, putting the company in potentially heavy competition against Apple and Research In Motion, producer of the BlackBerry. On top of that, Nokia's newest mobile application, Ovi Maps, represents a challenge to Google Maps for Mobile, opening up another competitive arena.

Nokia continues to roll out applications for its Ovi Store, including a new one called Ovi Maps that allows for two-dimensional and three-dimensional viewing of landmarks, night mode, language functionality, and satellite and terrain views.

As with applications from the Apple App Store or the Blackberry App World, the Ovi Store allows programs to be downloaded to company-specific smartphones. Like the App Store, Ovi has opened itself up to developers; the company offers an API for Ovi Maps that allows for modifications and the ability to embed Ovi features in a Website.

The open-development aspect of the application could make it a potential competitor to Google Maps. Google has been tweaking its Google Maps for Mobile application, making it easier for the smartphone community to find local businesses.

Developers working with the open-source Ovi Maps Player API can participate in Nokia's contest for "the best Apps on Maps solution," with a $30,000 prize fund and premium application placement on the Ovi Store for the winner.

"This competition looks set to harness the power of open source, and a raft of developers to create new and innovative uses for Ovi Maps," said an announcement on the Nokia Conversations Website.

Despite the massive amounts of press devoted in the United States to the Apple iPhone and Research In Motion's BlackBerry line of smartphones, Nokia held the overall No. 1 position in the worldwide smartphone market in 2008, according to research firm Gartner.

In the fourth quarter of 2008, Nokia finished with 40.8 percent of the worldwide market share, down from 50.9 percent from the same quarter in 2007, followed by RIM with 19.5 percent and Apple with 10.7 percent. HTC and Samsung rounded out the top five with 4.3 and 4.2 percent market share, respectively.

The question, however, is how much of a challenge Noka's store represents to Apple or RIM.

"It depends on how you look at the global market," Neil Strother, an analyst with Forrester, said in an interview. "Potentially, Nokia could do something similar [to Apple] because they have a big global footprint, but right now the momentum is with Apple."

"Apple's set a high bar [with the App Store]," Strother added, "and it's a horse race to see who can catch up to the leader. Nokia has to ask itself: Is the store itself easy to use? Is the interface easy to use? Can you educate users on it, and leave it easy for them to get?"