Nokia ovi – can it better other online services?

September 18th, 2008 | by Alfred Siew

Nokia ovi

A year after announcing its ovi online services, Nokia today showed off a near-complete version of its answer to Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s online offerings here in Singapore.

At a demo for reporters at the Geek Terminal cafe here, it presented new features like remote file sharing and sync’ing of contacts.

ovi is Nokia’s attempt to hook up its phone users to online services, seeing how Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are reaching out to mobile users through their Web-based e-mail, calendaring and productivity offerings. Let’s not also forget Apple and its tightly-integrated iTunes and recently, MobileMe application.

When fully ready, Nokia’s ovi offers the usual calendaring, contacts backup, as well as maps and games. Sounds like Google? Yup. Reminds you a bit of Apple’s iTunes and AppStore? Uh huh.

The thing is, ovi has taken a long time to complete since its announcement last year. It seems like a defensive move, yes, but it does have some value in offering a better out-of-box experience.

Remember that not everyone is signed up to Google Docs or Microsoft Live. This gives ovi an edge, because it targets anyone who has a Nokia phone – and Nokia sells more phones than anyone -and wants to go online with it.

The demo today showed off ovi’s remote sync feature, which goes beyond the usual PC-phone sync, to one where you can seamlessly sync all your contacts to the ovi portal either over 3.5G or Wi-Fi. Lost your phone? No worries, you can sync back your stuff from ovi.

More interesting was the second feature, which lets you share files with friends easily. I’d call it a smarter version of

You first select whatever files, say, reports or presentations, to sync to Nokia’s remote server, which you can access on your Nokia phone. To send this file to a friend or contact, you simply select the file from a list on your phone, which sends a link to your friend over e-mail. He then clicks on this link to preview or download the file.

The good news is that both of you can preview the file without downloading it first, saving download time and data costs if you are on the go.

To be sure, none of these ovi apps are hard to replicate, but Nokia has smartly clustered them together in one online portal that tightly integrates with Nokia phones. Sounds like Apple? Yup!

However, Nokia’s ovi only works with its phones now – most of the latest N and E series as well as “regular” phones should run well. This means you can’t use it if you are a Samsung or HTC user, and you better off using Google’s online sync features and Google Docs for sharing files.

How good is ovi, on the whole? It looks well thought out (after taking so long to build, it better!). But the real test is how much users want to be tied to Nokia.

Apple has shown that, with a strong brand and ease of use, it can attract users to its well integrated offerings. Google, on the other hand, offers unprecedented openness, and upcoming phones using its Android software, probably the most “connected” of all mobile devices, will give users access to Maps, e-mail and other online apps perhaps even more easily.

To be honest, all look promising, and it’s too early to say who will own the mobile Web in future. For now, if you are a Nokia user, you just got one more way to extend the usefulness of your phone.

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