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Wednesday, 01 July 2009 10:58

Nokia N97 officially launched, Ovi Store clocks up 20,000 apps

Although Nokia seems to let phone retailers sell its phones sometimes weeks before any company launch, the long-awaited N97 has finally launched on an official basis, along with the official Australian unveiling of the Ovi “app” store, now with a claimed 20,000 apps!

Watch out Apple, the world’s biggest manufacturer of mobile phones is gunning for the new iPhone 3GS and its App Store through the launch of the new Nokia N97 and an Ovi “app” Store that has 20,000 apps with plenty more on the way.

The N97 is unquestionably Nokia’s best and most advanced handset yet, offering a familiar 3.5-inch resistive touch screen, able to work with finger tips, fingernails and a stylus, unlike Apple’s capacitive touch screen which works with finger tips only.

That said, Apple still has the trump card of a multi-touch interface, something only Palm, LG and Chinese iPhone-clone makers have been able to copy, brilliantly in the case of the Palm Pre, well enough in the LG Arena and relatively woefully (but still multi-touch!) in those yum- cha iPhone-clones.

Nokia, why won’t you let us multi-touch your screens? Apple says it has patented multi-touch to the hilt, but what do Palm and LG know that you don’t?

Even so, single touch is quite effective for most purposes and finally, Nokia has a successor to the Nokia 5800 series touch-screen phone with a bigger screen and an improved Symbian S60 5th Edition OS.

Today was the first time I laid my hands on the N97, which Nokia previewed several months ago. In one sense, early knowledge of Nokia’s devices is fantastic, but it is a shame it has taken until now for the N97 to truly be made widely available to end-users in Australia.

Imagine if the N97 was available for Christmas last year, around the time we first heard of it?

Having read several N97 reviews, with some wishing the keyboard had more “travel” when pressing the keys, others wondering why the on-screen QWERTY keyboard had to be deleted from the OS when it worked perfectly well on the similar 5800-series device (despite the presence of an actual keyboard) and wishing the N97 was a bit faster, I was keen to see it for myself.

The very first thing I looked at was the angle of the screen when opened.

While it seemed ok to me, with a Nokia representative noting during the launch that Nokia's engineers worked hard to decide on the right angle, I've read comments from people who wished they could adjust the screen to a wide range of angles, much like the new Windows Mobile powered HTC Touch HD 2.

And why not? Angles are a personal thing, people are of different heights, neck lengths, eye positions in one's face... can a universal angle truly be possible on such a small device? Perhaps angle choice will emerge in a future N98 or 99. 

The very second thing I noticed was that the home screen “widgets” did NOT spin around 90 degrees when the handset itself was turned from a vertical to a horizontal position.

This cute graphical spinning of the widgets was something the very first official Nokia N97 video showed several months ago, and looked very cool indeed. Seeing the real N97 in vertical mode turned horizontal just fade to a blue screen and then display the widgets in a horizontal position was a bit of a disappointment, frankly.

After all, graphical eye candy is always welcome in our digital devices, so we were teased with it and then delivered a blue screen. We all know that blue screens from Microsoft often indicate "death", so why a light-ish blue was even chosen (let alone NOT showing the lovely spinning animation) is a bit beyond me, but then what do I know? I’m only a technology journalist, not a phone hardware/software creator.

When it comes down to it, however, the lack of a spinning animation (with animations long part of Nokia’s user interfaces) isn’t the be-all and end-all of the N97. Actual usage and the utility of the home screen widgets - and the rest of the device itself - is far more important.

Please read on to page 2 to continue!

The widgets themselves update in real time, so you can see up to three status updates from Facebook, for example, new emails appear in real time, the weather widget displays the weather based on your GPS location and updates accordingly, and the widgets are customisable.

There only appears to be slots for 6 widgets, and no ability to scroll to a different screen of widgets should I wish another half dozen to appear on a “page 2”. I only had a short time with the phone and am waiting for a review model to arrive, so maybe I’m wrong on this one, but more widgets at the same time (or on different screens) didn’t appear to be possible.

Claims the keyboard could have had more “travel” when keys are pressed seem valid, although I could type fast enough on the physical keyboard when I tried it.

Given much of the N97 OS is quite similar to the Nokia 5800 touch screen device, which I am using, the interface was instantly familiar.

While not as smooth as the iPhone user interface, it’s still Nokia’s best – and only – touch-screen and phone OS at the moment. There is talk of the “Symbian Foundation” delivering a next-gen phone OS to Nokia sometime next year, but for now it’s S60 5th edition.

Given so much about the N97 was already known long before the official launch event, and given the N97 builds upon all the N-Series goodness we’ve seen since the Nokia N95, with the N97 being the latest ultimate refinement of the N-Series “multimedia computer” promise, one of the most interesting aspects for me at today’s launch was the announcement that the Ovi store now offers 20,000 apps.

A computer is designed to run apps, and while Nokia has long had its own app store called “Download!” on many N and E-series devices, it never performed as smoothly or as quickly as the iPhone’s App Store.

Apps were never massively promoted as Apple has recently done with its “there’s an app for that” campaign, but this is all changing with the Ovi Store which looks very similar to the iPhone App Store (and those from Google Android and the BlackBerry market).

Nokia is going to heavily promote its Ovi Store and promises regular updates on many new apps to come soon, showing Nokia is finally taking this whole third party app business very seriously.

Given that it took a couple of years for Ovi to actually launch, one could have been forgiven for thinking Nokia didn’t really care, but its “20,000 apps” announcement today puts Apple on notice that the great mobile phone giant is stirring as never before, probably somewhat stung by the iPhone’s incredible popularity.

This is evidenced by a comment from Emile Baak, Nokia’s Australia’s MD, who said: “The convergence of the Internet, mobility and context-awareness is changing the way people communicate, share, search and consume information.

“The Nokia N97 delivers on our promise to create a highly personalised Internet experience similar to what you would expect from a PC, but with the benefits of mobility and immediacy.”

Of course anyone with an iPhone or even a Nokia N-Series device that regularly browses the web, checks email, plays with apps, uses online services, YouTube and plenty more already knows this and has experienced it.

But now with the N97 (and the success of the iPhone!), Nokia’s push is stronger than ever, you can have a screen as big as the iPhone’s and a ‘today/home screen’ that can show a lot more information sourced from online sources than the iPhone, which usually needs you to enter an application first.

So, how far has the Ovi Store spread, how much is the Nokia N97 in Australia, and what are my final thoughts - for now? Please read on to the final page.

Nokia’s Ovi Store launched globally in May 2009, despite “officially” launching in Australia, today on July 1.

Nokia also notes that the Ovi Store has “reached 131 countries within the first 24 hours and users from over 170 countries now have an active Ovi Store account”.

Following on from today’s launch event which promised a lot more action on the Ovi app store front, Nokia notes that: “Ovi Store continues to enjoy significant growth in terms of reach and content”, so we definitely hope to see that really accelerate.

As with the iPhone app store, there are paid and free apps, but unlike the iPhone App Store many apps that are quite cheap on the iPhone seem more expensive on the Ovi Store. Perhaps as more and more Nokia users get the Ovi Store up and running on their phones, more of the competition we’ve seen on the Apple app store will be seen on the Ovi store, pushing prices down or at least making them competitive with iPhone app store pricing.

There are global and local content and software providers, as you’d expect, and some of the global partners include “Paramount, Facebook, MySpace, Disney, eBay, Fox Mobile, Reuters, AccuWeather and EA”, while local Australian partners include the “ABC, Austereo, News Digital Media and Lookoutmobile, which offers AFL and NRL updates.”

In addition to the Nokia N97, Nokia notes the Ovi Store is “now accessible from over 75 Nokia devices in five languages. The Australian Ovi Store supports operator billing through Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Crazy John’s.”

Nokia also reminds us that “Credit card billing is also available through the mobile application and the mobile website (”

Nokia Australia’s MD, Emile Baak added that: “Ovi Store is a constantly evolving service for consumers and we believe that providing engaging and locally relevant content is extremely important to its success.”

In Australia, the Nokia N97 will be available through local telcos Optus, Vodafone and selected retailers and will have an RRP of AUD $1,129, so while the Ovi store works through Telstra as well, there’s no sign of the N97 coming to Telstra as yet.

Also, while Nokia didn’t make any mention of it, past history has always seen these prices drop relatively quickly after the first two or three months, so I’m sure there’ll be some strong Christmas/holiday season deals coming up over the next few months, adding further price pressure to the iPhone and competing devices.

So… while the iPhone 3GS still has the user interface, ease of use and an almighty selection of apps, the Nokia N97 is still an incredibly capable phone.

It’s also very easy to use, more advanced than all its predecessors, has better specs than the iPhone in various areas, can properly multi-task, has its own growing set of apps and plenty more.

For some, the decision will be a no brainer: the iPhone. But not everyone is an iPhone fanatic, and the N97 is Nokia’s best challenger, not only to the iPhone, but to Windows Mobile “HTC Touch 2” devices, Google Android and the rest.

A fuller actual review is still forthcoming, as is multi-touch, presumably on some future Nokia N98 or N99, but for now, the N97 is Nokia’s best yet and will, like the iPhone, sell in the millions.



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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.




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