Nokia Ovi is shaping up for a fight with Google

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Nokia’s multimedia supremo Anssi Vanoki showed off the company’s new Ovi service at Nokia World today, demonstrating how it’ll work on PCs, online and on mobile handsets. My takeaway thought is this: everyone bangs on about Nokia taking on Apple and its iPhone, but with Ovi, Nokia seems to be setting its sights at Google.

I mean that in its web form, Ovi is trying to bring together a bunch of different applications, including communication and content, while also rolling it out on mobile phones. Just what Google is doing with its web apps, in other words.

Also interesting is Nokia’s bullishness today – for example, one Vanjoki slide had a bunch of Nokia Nseries phones in, but also an iPhone, a Sony Ericsson Walkman, and a BlackBerry. It might seem like a small point, but last year, Nokia execs wouldn’t even refer to Apple by name, even when questioned.

Notes taken from his presentation follow – I was going to liveblog, but couldn’t get onto the Wi-Fi network in the auditorium.

Vanjoki started by presenting some stats on how people use their smartphones. Voice calls are 12% of the time, messaging is 37%, multimedia is 16%, personal information management is 14%, browsing is 8%, games and utilities are 4% each, and productivity is 1%. Meanwhile, 52% of data traffic comes from browsing, 30% from multimedia, and 12% from messaging.

So how do things need to be improved? “The people who have been our target up until now have been geeks enough to figure out how these things work,” he says. “Now, it is time to expand that and make it easier for other people.”

Nokia is thus keen to make it easier to discover and download mobile applications. The company is also focused on making it easier for users to store and collect media, whether it’s messages, photos, videos or whatever.

“The PC client that we have has got a lot of criticism over the years, but that is almost gone,” he said. “But that is not enough, it has to be better. We have to have a more complete way of managing your digital life. Now we are at the stage of Web 2.0, and are moving to the next evolution, we need to know how people can integrate digital as part of their everyday life.”

Yes, and? This is where Vanjoki rolled out the new stuff. First: simplicity. Nokia has classified mobile users’ actvities into seven ‘experience screens’ – games, music, video & TV, contacts, maps, photos and internet. Each gets its own neat little icon, natch. “In 2008 we will be integrating moe applications and going deeper in this whole setup,” he says.

Now content discovery “in context” – which is an important qualification, according to Vanjoki. He talked about the new Nokia Internet Radio service, which I covered yesterday, offering more than 1,000 streaming radio stations.

Next up was N-Gage, which relaunches this month as a game platform across Nokia handsets, rather than dedicated gaming phones as it was before. He talked about games being location-aware, which is interesting. “This month it becomes available, and we will be rolling it out globally throughout 2008.”

That’s old news though. Vanjoki then moved on to Nokia’s big new thing this week, which is making it easier for people to manage all their content and information in one place, while ensuring that it’s secure and backed up.

“That’s why we need to develop a complete experience, which is like a tripod. Having a generic web access, but also residing on your computer, as well as on your mobile multimedia computer [i.e. phone]. It has to be unified and consistent, which is what Ovi is all about. It’s not a portal, it’s a complete environent which resides on the web, is on your personal computer, and serves your mobile device. It’s a door to your digital life.”

I’ve quoted that in full, because a lot of people (myself included) are still unsure about what exactly Ovi is. Thankfully, Vanjoki also showed some demos of how Ovi will work.

On the web, it’s a place to gather your photos, videos, maps and calendar dates – judging by the screenshot, it’s a direct rival for the kind of unified service that Google is building. Nokia versus Google: there’s your headline. I’m still a bit confused though: if Nokia is committed to openness – a point that’s been made several times today – will you be able to pull your Flickr photos, YouTube videos and so on into Ovi?

Ovi.com will also function as a unified contacts database, tying into mapping and calendar features. But Nokia will also be selling mobile games and music through Ovi – “You can buy all the entertainment necessary from this environment,” he says, showing a window with Nokia Music Store and N-Gage stuff to buy.

I’ll say it now: if Ovi.com follows the Music Store in only working on the latest Internet Explorer browser, Nokia will have scored a glaring own-goal. Really.

Anyway, how will Ovi work on your PC? It’ll be an Ovi Suite application, synching your Nokia phone to upload your photos and videos, complete with a whizzy 3D interface with photos floating in space (thankfully, there’s also a linear timeline, for those of us who would rather stick to tried and trusted methods.

Finally, Ovi on the mobile. It’ll be tightly integrated into the new multimedia menu, allowing you to access various internet services from within the menus – not just Nokia services. “It really is a personal dashboard to your life,” says Vanjoki.

“It’s an open environment, it’s not closed to Nokia applications,” he says. Partners flashed up on a slide, including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Windows Live and YouTube, along with several operators.

So, Ovi.com is in internal beta still, with a public beta due in 2008. Oh, and it will work on PC AND Macs. “This is in our DNA, and we are fighting to make it available in all those operating environments that are popular, whether they come from Microsoft, Apple or Linux,” says Vanjoki.

For the latest posts from the show, check our Nokia World 2007 category

Stuart Dredge