Nokia lays plan for more Internet services

Company wants to move beyond cell phones to Web services

Nokia Corp. today unveiled an ambitious plan to move beyond cell phones and deeper into the world of Internet services, where it will compete more directly with Google Inc., Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

The plan centers on its Web site at Ovi.com, which Nokia will market as a "personal dashboard" where users can share photos with friends, buy music and access third-party services like Yahoo's Flickr photo site.

The idea is to offer a single location where people can manage the content, services and contacts they accumulate when surfing the Internet on their phones and PCs, said Anssi Vanjoki, general manager of Nokia's multimedia group, at the company's Nokia World conference in Amsterdam.

Ovi.com will offer a single sign-on for the services, so people don't have to remember numerous log-ins and passwords on the Web, Vanjoki said. Nokia is also developing Ovi desktop software for organizing content offline.

Espoo, Finland-based Nokia began talking about Ovi in August, and one part of the service, an updated version of Nokia's mobile gaming platform, N-Gage Arena, is going live this month, Vanjoki said. The service worked in the past only with Nokia's N-Gage mobile game consoles, but the company said it will soon work with other devices.

The games service is only the start. Nokia has said that an online music store will follow, and the company today provided more details of other services it will offer. They include mapping services, a video store and a photo service that allows users to upload photos from a phone and link them to maps, much as Google allows people to do with its Picasa service.

"Ovi will enable people to access social networks, communities and content. It's the foundation from which we'll expand Nokia in new directions," said Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia's president and CEO.

Nokia holds more than one-third of the world's mobile phone market, and it hopes that Internet-enabled devices like its N95 mobile phone will become the primary way people access the Web in future. At a time when the average price of cell phones is falling, online services could help it build new business.

Nokia faces several challenges, including turning Ovi into a brand that can compete with established online companies like Google and Facebook. Kallasvuo acknowledged the challenges while answering questions after his speech, which was webcast.

"In addition to being a device company, we have to become more like an Internet company as well, and combine the two worlds," he said. "That's a great challenge, but at the same time a great opportunity."

Nokia's Ovi initiative will have a greater chance of success if more people start using Internet-enabled phones. It estimates that 3 billion people worldwide have a mobile phone, but only 300 million have advanced multimedia handsets, and only about 200 million of those are from Nokia. The devices also need to be easier to use, Vanjoki said. "A lot of improvement needs to take place," he said.

Ovi.com is being tested internally and will be rolled out for public beta next year, when the desktop software will also be released, Vanjoki said. The company demonstrated the software, which has snazzy interface elements, including a tool for organizing videos, photos and other files that makes them appear to be floating in three-dimensional space.

The service is likely to include an online storage component to make it easier to share files online. "We haven't yet announced the media-sharing service, but that will be part of the Ovi.com sales offering," said Nokia spokesman Kari Tuutti.

Access to Ovi.com and the desktop software will be free, Tuutti said. The software will be delivered on a CD with Nokia phones and offered for download over the Web.

Ovi is the Finnish word for "door," and the name is intended to imply that Nokia opens doors to the Web.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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