Nokia Ovi Store

It's got a long way to go before it catches Apple's App Store in regards to both quantity and quality of apps, but Nokia's Ovi Store definitely shows promise.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
4 min read

There's little doubt that software is the new battleground for smartphone manufacturers. In years passed we've crunched spec-sheets to evaluate the good phones and bad phones, but 2009 has seen a plateau in hardware and a push for applications. For this reason Nokia's Ovi Store needed to hit the ground running, and with 20,000 objects in store at launch it's off to a flying start.

Notice we use the word objects and not applications. At the launch of the Ovi Store, its fiercest competitor, Apple's App Store, features an official 35,000 apps, but probably more in actuality. Nokia can't claim that the Ovi Store is in the same ballpark figure when speaking about apps alone, but fills its shelves with additional content for your phone as well, like ringtones and wallpapers to customise your handset, and videos such as trailers for upcoming movies.

We admit to having been a little cynical about this approach, after all, it's the apps we want and we hoped the Store wouldn't be filled with window dressing. But on first inspection it was pretty clear that the Applications menu was full of apps, while the Personalisation menu was comparatively empty — this is the right mix.

Performance, navigation and discovery

When it works, the Ovi Store seems to work very well. We noticed a few teething problems on launch day, with the store (or perhaps our handset) failing to make a connection once or twice. In the store front, the menu works well, populates quickly with entries, and loads selections without considerable lag.

Navigation is mostly good, with tabs for each of the main categories at the top of the screen, a search button immediately below it and the apps lower again in a clear list. Compared to the Apple App Store, we'd like to have seen more entries per screen. The Ovi Store displays 10 at a time and requires a page refresh to see more, but when you're scanning through thousands of entries to find the diamond in the rough it feels like you're constantly hitting next. We like the way this style of list is implemented in the Android Market, where it automatically updates as you scroll down so that it's like a never-ending list of apps.

This need to refresh the screen at the bottom of each page is one of a few reasons we've found it slightly more difficult to discover useful new apps on the Ovi Store. It's early days, but we seem to see the same two- or three-dozen apps whether we entered from the home screen or chose a search filter, like Most Popular. Nokia is promising location-based search results and recommendations, using the region you are in to make its suggestions, which may improve the discovery of new apps greatly.

Search results, either automated in each category or after a keyword search, can be filtered to help display only what you want. You can choose to see only free or paid apps and you can see the most recent additions or most popular downloads. You can also select the developer to see all apps and objects being sold by the same company, which helps pair complementary apps from a trusted developer.

We wish the Ovi Store had a better mechanism for previewing certain sale items, especially wallpaper images and ringtones. We've found wallpapers costing up to AU$6.60 and ringtones for around AU$8, but it's very hard to determine whether or not they are any good without a preview function of some sort. Each app and image has a tiny thumbnail preview, but these are too small to be of any value.


One thing that promotes use of the Apple App Store more than anything else is its pricing. The arrangement made by Apple, and similarly Nokia, allows the developers to determine the price of their apps. Developers making use of Apple's store seem to know how to attract an app store shopper by having limited time discounts and free watered-down versions with the option to upgrade for a price.

The apps we've encountered so far on the Ovi Store are priced significantly higher. While there's a range of free apps (and many of the personalisation objects are free too), most apps charge at around AU$10-plus, which is a lot to pay for an app you've never heard of before. We came across a Flashlight app on the store, a favourite freebie on the Apple Store, which the developer was charging AU$12 to buy — a ridiculous sum for such a simple tool. We know this isn't Nokia's responsibility directly, but perhaps some gentle persuasion might be necessary to help these developers find their customers.


The major gaming studios seem to be really getting behind gaming for mobile platforms, and the fruits of this are in the Games tab on the Ovi Store. Many major games developers are represented with Taito (Cooking Mama, Super Puzzle Bobble) and Capcom (Super Street Fighter 2) matching mobile gaming companies like Gamesloft and Glu.

The industry's biggest player, EA, is by far the most prolific at launch; we counted 14 titles on the day the store opened, including EA Sports titles, The Sims 2 and Tomb Raider. We're not sure whether this new channel for mobile game sales conflicts or complements the Nokia N-Gage game store, but we don't care much either — it's great to have more options for playing games.

Overall, Nokia's Ovi Store launches from solid beginnings. It's got a long way to go before it catches Apple's App Store in regards to both quantity and quality of apps, and only time will tell if developers see the same opportunity on Ovi as they have on the Apple App Store.