One of my biggest frustrations on the internet is the disconnect between services I use. Various accounts each require individual logins which translates to a maintenance headache. Microsoft tried to alleviate this years ago with Passport IDs, but wary users begged off of a solution proposed by a monolithic corporation. More recently, OpenID shows promise but really only solves the login part of the equation.
Enter Ovi (Finnish for “door”), the semi-integrated smorgasbord of web services under construction by global phone giant Nokia. The goal is a seamless experience where members can thread their way through photo uploads, music downloads and related online experiences without the hassle of multiple accounts. Integration has been rough, as demonstrated by one recent hiccup, but unfortunately such can be the growing pains of a Frankenstein product assembled from mostly purchased parts.
None of this is new to the tech-savvy, but what I want to explore is Ovi’s potential. Most articles I’ve seen on the subject focus on the hurdle Nokia faces in going head to head with the likes of Flickr and iTunes. Given the company’s silence around such criticisms, I’ve been wondering for a while if there was even any such concern.
As most of us are aware, unseating a loved and entrenched brand can be next to impossible, and even backfire in attempts. In the wacky world of web services, often the first-out-of-the-gate ends up the default winner by that virtue alone. New competition for such a popular service can be seen as laughable attacks by loyal users, many of whom have a huge vested interest in the success of the service. Who wants to move hundreds of precious pics from Flickr to something largely untested, such as Share on Ovi? Why relocate viral videos from Youtube, the undisputed king of internet broadcast?
Maybe that’s not Nokia’s care here. Maybe steadily dwindling sales in trendsetting regions such as the US tell the story (Nokia was down to 8 percent share of the US cell phone market as of May 2008, even as its global share was rising to 40 percent).
Having once saturated the leading markets, Nokia’s current target is developing countries such as China, India, Africa and nations in the Middle East. Some of these regions may well be more receptive to a consolidated web service offering from a Finnish provider as opposed to disparate competitors originating in the US. Also helpful is a trend in Nokia phones lately to drive advanced features down to lower price points. Couple that with Nokia’s tremendous share in areas where those phones are mostly desired, and you have a built-in conveyance for getting Ovi into the hands of a large number of people. Not to mention the potential of internet tablets running the Linux-based operating system Maemo; these devices provide an excellent mobile internet experience and future variants could easily take advantage of the large customer bases in places like India and China.
So far the statistics I’ve seen give the impression that Nokia has its work cut out even in developing areas. For instance, as of today Facebook says that over 70 percent of its users are outside of the US. Some may say that this is irrelevant, that Facebook is not (yet) an Ovi competitor… but I believe the breadth of Ovi’s offering along with eventual tight integration and expansion ultimately indicate otherwise. Regardless, I suspect that points on the “loyalty index” curve for US-based services drop off significantly outside the nation’s borders. Much of the cause is political, and that’s where the quiet country of Finland may well have an advantage.
I really want to explore this subject further with the benefit of data, but right now I’m encountering difficulty digging up the metrics I need. I’m not giving up, though, and references from the crowd are surely welcome.
Disclosure: author is a former Nokia employee and current stockholder