Nokia’s new Ovi Store officially launched today. It represents a step in the right direction for the diversification of the mobile content market in general, but there are substantial kinks to address. There are enough blogs and tweets out there that rehash the high and low points (highlights for me include: Terence Eden’s post, All About Symbian’s Post, Mobile Industry Review, and TechCrunch). In this post, I’m going to focus on the lessons Nokia and others can learn from this launch:
#1: Call your first launch a Beta, and give users a chance to contribute to its success.
I wasn’t expecting perfection for the Ovi Store from Day 1, but I was expecting a better product. I’d been looking forward to the Ovi Store launch since I met Tero Ojanperä at The Mobile App Developer Garage at Mobile World Congress. The vision for the Ovi Store is ambitious and highly complex – a truly global mobile app and content store with credit card AND carrier billing available on at least 50 million Nokia devices worldwide. I went online last night – shortly after launch – to take the Ovi Store for a test drive. While I’m impressed with Nokia’s ambition, like others (note the many comments in this TechCrunch post), I experienced initial frustration… Not so much with the standard web version (though it was slow) but more with the mobile website, which was painfully slow. And, I couldn’t easily find where to download the Ovi app and had to use the mobile website (store.ovi.mobi) instead. In addition, there are more than a handful of odd UI issues, which should be straightforward to fix in due course. And, I’m sure Nokia is working on them.
Performance and other issues were enough for TechCrunch to conclude “Nokia Ovi Store Launch Is A Complete Disaster“. It’s important to note that TechCrunch didn’t say that the Ovi Store was “complete disaster” – just the launch. That said, the Ovi Store will need to go through some growing pains before it gets both thumbs up from me. Right now, I think it’s a great idea with a beta-quality implementation.
Nokia could have called this launch an open “beta” and set up a Digg-like social feedback mechanism to collect pain points and suggestions from which to iterate. From there, they could have mined collective feedback from users and made changes to the product where appropriate. This would have given users an opportunity to put some skin in the game and really feel like they were contributing to a great product. It would have also helped them address some of the more common complaints I’ve heard (and experienced) so far:
- UI Issues:
- Difficult to find the mobile app to download
- Truncated/shortened app titles
- No Nokia branding on the mobile website – just “Ovi” (which itself is not yet a well recognized brand)
- Discoverability problems
- Hard to navigate
- Difficult to find the application category taxonomy for apps on the web.
- Impossible to find app category taxonomy on the mobile web.
- frozen searches
- searches for basic terms that yield no results
- There should be a mobile search box that allows you to search the Ovi Store for apps from every page within the mobile application. Instead, there’s just a “search link” which you have to click. From there, you’re taken to a search page where you can enter search criteria. Surely it would be easier to allow users to insert text straight into a text box at the top of each page or and include an “advanced search” button just in case a more complex search is needed.
- No ability to search apps by their star ratings (though you can search for “most popular”)
- Performance issues:
- Blank pages
- Slow to load, etc.
- Clicking on “recommended” apps leads to a page that says the app is no longer available
- he user experience sucks too. Navigating the online store is downright complicated, and the categories being assigned to certain applications and content are way off at times. Entering basic search queries (e.g. ‘games’) often leads to zero results or a freezing page. To add insult to injury, we hear people with an Ovi account are unable to use their credentials for logging on to the new service, but that they are being told that there’s already a profile with their user name when they attempt to register for a new account. That means Nokia is basically blocking registered users from using its new service at this point.
Instead, Nokia built up expectations for the Ovi Store launch and disappointed a substantial number of mobile enthusiasts, bloggers, and twitterers. I’m confident this would also have softened the harsh press and blogger criticism Nokia received today.
#2 Expect the best, prepare for the worst. Test, test, and retest. Bang on the drum until it breaks.
Nokia wasn’t prepared for how popular the Ovi Store would be, and the large number of users hitting the store caused it to slow to a grinding halt shortly after launch. Whether you’re launching a service for 1000 or 50 million users, be prepared for more users than you expect. Nokia is a well honed PR machine and has been building up momentum towards a big Ovi Store launch since February. They saw the lines at the Apple Stores and the performance challenges Apple faced when it launched the iTunes App store last year. It shouldn’t have been surprised by the incredible volume of people that wanted to try the Ovi Store from the word go.
#3 Excite your partners and communicate effectively with them
In addition to noting the performance hiccups, Robin Wauters of TechCrunch rightly complained:
Out of the ten applications I recommended earlier today, three suddenly disappeared from the Ovi Store for no obvious reason. Searching for them yields no results, but they do pop up in the ‘related items’ section when you’re browsing alternative applications. Nokia offers no explanation why the content suddenly became unavailable, or if and when they will be back. Meanwhile, some apps are showing up twice (e.g. Qik).
TechCrunch also reported, “Publisher profiles sometimes have nothing but a poorly embedded logo, an extremely short description and no link to their own website (e.g. inTouch).”
I suspect that one of the reasons why a handful of apps disappeared from the Ovi Store and publisher profiles were incomplete is because many developers were unprepared for the Ovi Store launch. Several developers told me that they weren’t given a date for launch and were caught off guard when they received an email saying Ovi Store was open for business. One admitted to pulled their apps to give themselves an opportunity to prepare their own PR, marketing, and social launch plans, rather than rushing to respond Nokia’s timeline. Another developer mentioned that it was still deciding on a pricing strategy for their Symbian app, when the Ovi Store went live. That developer had established “placeholder” price to get their app through the Ovi Store approval process but hadn’t intended to go to market with it. They were shocked when the store launched this morning and pulled their app, which was listed with the wrong (i.e “placeholder”) price point.
If you you rely on partners (in this case developers) for your own success, give them the tools they need to be successful. Communicate clearly, courteously and regularly to your partners. Bring them with you. Don’t leave them in the dark.
#4 Provide a clear call to action and an easy to find and read “How it Works” tutorial.
One of the biggest problems with the Ovi Store is that getting started is not intuitive. If you go to store.ovi.com on your PC browser, the first thing you see is this screen:
I would have preferred more intuitive text in big, bold letters saying, “Welcome to the Ovi Store, Nokia’s mobile application content portal. Here’s how to get started”:
- “Select your device to browse the available content for your phone”
- Allow users to type in their device model immediately… Don’t force them to click the “where’s my device” icon and then navigate through an difficult device selection page. If they know the model number, let them type it in. If they don’t, take them to a WYSIWYG that let’s them pick.
- “To download content to your phone, sign up!” (Clicking a big “sign up” or “register” button would then take the user to a sign up page):
- As it is now, the user has to search for the “register” text, which is small, grey, and in the right hand corner of the page
- The registration process is easy, but the features of the Ovi Store are unclear. For example, when Nokia sends you a text message to verify your mobile number, it doesn’t give you a URL to also download the mobile application to your phone at that time. Instead, it encourages you to browse the WAP site. There’s no mention that I could find of an Ovi Store Application to download, though I know there is one!
#5 If a launch doesn’t go as well as you expect, acknowledge the issue and publicly address the public’s concerns.
Shortly after launching the Ovi Store at 2 am ET, we began experiencing extraordinarily high spikes of traffic that resulted in some performance issues for users accessing store.ovi.com and store.ovi.mobi. We immediately began to address this issue by adding servers, which resulted in intermittent performance improvements. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused Ovi Store users and encourage you to continue giving us feedback as we develop the service further.
The Ovi Store device client, however, has continued to perform very well and there were no reported issues from users logged on through that entry point.
This may not have calmed the storm of commentary 100%, but it was a good start. I was happy to see a Nokia exec monitoring social commentary and paying attention to feedback. Now, if only Nokia would launch the digg-like feedback mechanism I suggested above and start addressing the key usability issues…
To be clear, what Nokia is attempting is an incredibly difficult undertaking – MUCH bigger than what Apple has attempted to date (many more devices, countries, carriers, etc.). If Nokia finds a constructive way to listen to, filter, and action the public’s feedback on the Ovi Store, I have no doubt that the Ovi Store will be a HUGE success. And, when that happens, I’ll be a very happy share holder and E71 owner.