November 18, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Stubborn Nokia Cites 3 Million Daily Downloads from Ovi App Store

Nokia, the Finnish company that dominated the early era of the cellphone with its popular “candy bar”-style phones, announced on Thursday that it is still relevant, even as users flock to other smartphones and their app stores.

Visitors to the company’s Ovi store — which is like the iTunes app store or Android marketplace — are downloading three million apps per day from the Ovi store. Nokia is smart to trumpet this statistic, because in the court of public opinion, it’s barely a player at all in the smartphone wars, despite the fact that the company counts 165 million potential Ovi users due to its wide install base.

Many have wondered why doesn’t Nokia just scrap its Symbian operating system and switch to Google Android? With Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak saying Android is going to win the mobile operating system wars, it could make sense for Nokia to hitch its wagon to Google’s star. After all, if Apple’s iOS, which started this app revolution, can’t even keep up with Android in the years to come, according to the guy who started Apple with Steve Jobs, how can Nokia’s Ovi app store keep up?

It all comes down to margins: Nokia would rather place a huge bet on being able to create its own vibrant app ecosystem, than a small bet on becoming yet another Android manufacturer, a source close to the situation who preferred not to be named told, echoing some widely-quoted words of Nokia executive Anssi Vanjoki in September.

Vanjoki infamously proclaimed that Nokia would be throwing away the chance to make more money on its own operating system by ceding its handsets to Google Android — but his choice of metaphor was what had people talking. He likened a potential Nokia switch to Android to Finnish boys who “pee in their pants” for warmth. Clearly, Nokia is going to stick it out with Ovi, for better or for worse, leaving Android to other manufacturers.

As Wozniak also said this week, Nokia, which made many of the most popular pre-smartphones, now feels like “the brand from a previous generation.” If Nokia is serious about competing with Android and iPhone, it probably needs a new name for its operating system, because when people think Symbian, they think of the past — Woz included.

Three million downloads per day is a lot, of course, but Nokia still has 165 million users; the real challenge will be to keep them from migrating to smartphone platforms with wider app selection, so the company has its work cut out for it. A brief scan of the music apps selection in the Nokia Ovi app store gives Apple and Google little to worry about.