Opinion: Nokia needs apps not maps

Nokia's Ovi now has free maps but is way behind when it comes to apps

Nokia's Ovi now has free maps but is way behind when it comes to apps

Nokia’s free maps will give the company a short-term boost but in the long run only apps will help it compete, argues Adam Maguire.

It’s an over-used term but Nokia’s decision to give its Ovi Maps software away for free can be fairly described as a game-changer.

The announcement has almost certainly put the company’s rivals on the defensive and for the first time in a while it’s not the Finnish giant that’s playing catch-up. The eventual result of the move can only be bad for dedicated sat-nav providers like TomTom and Garmin, too. In a world where every half-decent phone gives away what has been their bread and butter, these companies will struggle to survive the next five years.

So this is game-changing; the problem for Nokia is that the game they have changed is at best a minor one in the mobile sphere.

Of course the company’s main competitors – namely Apple and Google – will have to respond quickly if they want to compete with the free Ovi Maps software but they are both in a position to do so.

Apple last year purchased map-maker PlaceBase and has GPS built-in to the latest iPhones on the market. Google – of course – has an extensive mapping site that will act as a strong foundation for turn-by-turn navigation and most Android handsets are also GPS-capable.

In other words it will not take long for Nokia to lose the ‘unique’ aspect of its new-found unique selling point. Once that happens the company will be back to chasing the pack again – unless it can get into the real game quickly.

The real game in the mobile world is the app market and so far things have not gone well for Nokia. It must be said that things have not gone too well for any company bar Apple but given Nokia’s previously untouchable position when it came to mobiles their problem is all the more apparent.

The new reality is that the phone the user buys is no longer the most important factor – it is its ability to morph to suit the customer’s tastes that’s crucial.

So far Nokia’s Ovi Store has failed to show it can offer this, while Apple’s iTunes App Store has become a synonymous with such freedom of choice (somewhat ironically).

To its credit Nokia does realise this is a problem and is pushing hard – in Ireland and across the world – to make up for its sluggish start. Recently the company met with developers in Dublin to try to create a relationship that would in turn create interesting apps and its staff here talk as if this is just the beginning of a long-term strategy.

The problems they face are unenviable, however. The company has a huge and growing array of phones that use the Ovi Store, making compatibility a big issue. This leads to further problems if the company wants to promote an app in the way Apple does with its many iPhone TV spots.

However if the company has any hope of overcoming Apple’s commanding lead – ArsTechnica reckons the Mac-maker held 99.4% of all app sales in 2009 – it must move fast.

Luckily for them the maps announcement has bought the company some time as now it has a unique selling point to make up for its lack of app-based functionality. It won’t be long until that edge is worn down, however, and if they’re not ready for the real game by that time then it’s hard to see them facing anything but defeat.

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