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Nokia Flubs Ovi Store Opening

Nokia's launch of its Ovi mobile application store was a fiasco, and bodes ill for the world's leading handset vendor's hopes of catching up with Apple. As paradoxical as that statement seems, Nokia is indeed chasing the momentum and cachet Apple enjoys, in large part because of the very iTunes App Store that Nokia was unsuccessfully aping with the Ovi Store.

The Ovi Store didn't just fail to scale when it launched -- it also launched with what analyst Joe Wilcox called a "disappointing launch selection... Forget the number of apps, that's irrelevant. It's the apps that are missing -- no Facebook, no MySpace." This from a company that is supposed to understand the importance of community.

Nokia has other problems matching up with Apple as well. By supporting micro-payments made directly to application developers, the next generation of the iPhone will help Apple attract even more developers and provide an even greater selection of apps, while Nokia is stuck with managing a fragmented set of phones running on different versions of its Symbian operating system -- making it harder for developers to simply "write once and run everywhere."

This highlights another crucial difference between Apple and Nokia; whereas Nokia is focused on making great hardware, Apple sees the iPhone as a platform it controls in every way, from software upgrades and apps to hardware. Wilcox told me today that the iPhone "could yet become the dominant mobile computing platform of the future."

Palm, meanwhile, is readying the Pre smartphone, which Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala told me is "Palm's last best chance" to regain its former luster. Five years ago, he told me, anyone would have guessed the market leader for smartphones today would be a Palm device. "It just shows that smartphone leadership can change in the blink of an eye... there's faster share-shifting than any industry we've seen except maybe gaming," Kerravala said.

However, Kerravala isn't about to call the race for the iPhone either. "BlackBerry still has the inside track in North America," he said, in large part because Research in Motion is the only handset maker with a high-end smartphone available on the Verizon network, which has the largest subscriber base in North America. Apple's iPhone and Nokia's E71x, just introduced with great fanfare, are only available on the AT&T network, while the Pre will be available on the Sprint network only.

According to Kerravala, Nokia's Ovi Store failure doesn't mean the vendor's ambitions are dead on arrival. "More apps would help, Verizon would help more," he said.

[Image source: Andrea Vascellari via Flickr]