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Nokia to offer apps based on user location, friends

By Nancy Gohring, IDG News Service
February 16, 2009 04:30 AM ET

IDG News Service - Nokia plans to introduce an applications store, initially accessible to about 50 million people, with some innovative social-networking features.

The Ovi Store will open in May, and most people using S60 and S40 devices will be able to use it.

"It's a service that feeds you a constantly refreshing feed of content, personalized to you," said George Linardos, vice president of product management for media at Nokia.

Users can opt for a social-networking component of the application store that shows them items that people in their contacts list have recently bought. Friends don't "have to go through this old-school process of hitting share and entering an e-mail address," Linardos said. Instead, items such as games or videos appear at the top of the store, telling the user which friends have recently downloaded the content.

"You're not just browsing for things to buy, but you're being fed content you want," he said. "No two people in theory are ever really seeing the same content."

The store, which Nokia planned to announce on Monday at the Mobile World Congress, will also automatically feature applications based on location. For example, if a user flies to London, when the user gets off the plane the application store will highlight content that might be useful and relevant, such as London restaurant guides or Lonely Planet city guides.

Those personalization features are aimed at solving a problem that some of the application stores, like Apple's iPhone App Store, are facing now that they have tens of thousands of applications. With such a high volume of products to choose from, users struggle to find interesting and quality applications. Users of the Ovi Store won't have to use the social-networking component and can also browse by category.

The store has another unique feature: It will only display applications that work on the user's phone. That's key because Nokia phones come in a wide range of form factors, and some applications may not render well on all devices.

The N97 will be the first phone to come preloaded with the software for the store, and thereafter all S60 and most S40 Nokia phones will have it. By 2012, Nokia, the number-one maker of mobile phones, expects that the store will reach 300 million users.

Nokia joins other handset makers that are launching new application stores. While Apple wasn't the first to offer such a store, its easy-to-use iPhone Apps Store popularized the notion of buying and downloading applications to phones. Now, new stores are either planned or already available for the Palm Pre, the Android G1 and BlackBerry devices. Nokia has by far the largest number of phones in use around the world, making its store attractive to developers looking for the opportunity to sell applications to the largest possible base of users.

Nokia plans to open the store in May in nine countries, with continued rollouts to other regions after that. Users will be able to pay either via credit card or potentially via their regular cellular bill, depending on their mobile operator and the application developer.

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