Three things Nokia's Ovi Store needs to fix

Nokia's Ovi App store says it's going to bring apps to the most popular handset brand on the planet -- but so far, all we've seen is a poor first attempt. We tell it how to smarten up

With a fanfare of crashing servers , Nokia has launched the Ovi app store. But now that it's up and running, does it have what it takes to bring mobile phone apps to the masses? We took the Ovi Store through its paces and came up with three important ways it needs to pull up its shorts if it's going to keep users coming back for more.

1. Get good content

Before the Ovi Store was even a twinkle in Nokia's eye, developers were coming up with heaps of great apps for the Symbian operating system. Sure, they're a pain in the bum to install, and they're tricky to find, but they're out there. For example, every Londoner's favourite navigation aid, the A to Z, has a mobile version with searchable maps that don't need GPS and don't rack up any data charges. Handy? You'd better believe it. Available on the Ovi Store? Nope.

There could be many reasons why A to Z chose not to go with the Ovi Store, or Nokia didn't want it -- the A to Z company is notoriously sticky about how it distributes its treasure trove of London knowledge. But without good apps, the Ovi Store is just a proof of concept, not a useful tool, and Nokia should have moved heaven and Earth to get all the existing apps out there on board.

Instead, we get a selection of Star Trek movie tat , and a £6 tarot card app. Meh.

We had to put down our sleek little E51 and bust out our clapped-out N95 to get a look at the specific application that's supposed to make accessing the Ovi Store easier. To get the app, we went through the Download menu and refreshed the catalogue until we could see an Ovi icon -- a rigmarole that reminded us why we need the damn store so badly in the first place.

The Ovi Store app is a vast improvement over the Web-based version (accessible at store.ovi.com), however, both in terms of looks and usability. The option to filter and sort apps is just a click of a button, for example, rather than scrolling down to the bottom of a Web page and manipulating drop-down menus. So why isn't it available on all the Nokia smart phones, at a minimum?

Nokia should have chained its teams of developers to their elegant Finnish desks to make sure it would be ready for most smart phone handsets at launch. Otherwise, it just goes to show how tough it is to develop for Nokia's huge range of phones, when Nokia should be making it look easy -- and showing off a slick, user-friendly version of its store.

The Ovi Store should help us jump the two hefty hurdles to getting the many great Symbian apps on to our Nokia phones: they're hard to find and they're difficult to install. The store should help with the first one, by putting everything in one place and delivering only those apps that are compatible with your handset, rather than taking the brain-teasing 'which version of Symbian?' quiz that was required with most apps.

But making apps easy to install is just as important, and that means keeping clicks to a minimum and making messages easy to understand. But downloading some apps, even free ones, from the Web-based app store took us six clicks from the app's page, not including typing in our username and password. The process of paying takes even longer. And once the installation has started, there are the same old cryptic messages that flash on screen that we're using to seeing from installing Symbian apps before the Ovi Store. That means confusing error messages and seemingly random confirmation requests that seem to time-out in milliseconds.

Finally, once the application has installed, it's up to you to find it -- and on a Nokia, this has always been a treasure hunt. Of the three we installed, one ended up in the Applications menu folder, one got its own folder in the main menu, and a ringtone opened up right away, to be saved into the phone memory or discarded.

The Ovi Store should rule this behaviour with an iron fist to make sure users feel comfortable that once they pay for an app, they'll be able to find it -- and uninstall it -- easily. Apple's App Store made mobile phone apps the buzzword of 2009, not by having the greatest content -- just ask a Windows Mobile user about all the cool stuff they can get -- but by being so easy to use that anyone could find and install apps.

Nokia, with its cornucopia of different phones, has a much greater challenge when it comes to building an app store that works for everyone. But if it doesn't master it, it could go from mobile dominator to mobile dinosaur.

 

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