The Latest Carrier App Effort: Nokia Launches Co-Branded Ovi Storefronts

Operators have been relatively late to the app game, but that hasn’t stopped them from trying to make up for lost time by doing anything and everything they can to make a splash in the apps market. They have tried to get in on the app store craze on their own steam (think Verizon’s V Cast app store); and via groups like the Wireless Application Community (WAC). And, to spread (or confuse, as the case may be) their message even more, they are also trying to do their own thing via native app stores, too.

In the latest of these efforts, Nokia (NYSE: NOK) today announced two new “stores within stores” for its Ovi app store, in partnership with Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile and France Telecom’s Orange.

The aim of the dedicated “shelves” on the Ovi Store, says Nokia, is to give mobile operators their own distinctive branding within the native app experience, which otherwise sidesteps operator identification for the most part — although Ovi does already integrate with operators’ billing systems in many markets. Mobile operators can also use the stores to promote their own Symbian apps and services.

From the release, it looks like Nokia hopes these two stores will be the first of many in partnership with other operators. As a first port of call, a spokesperson for the company tells mocoNews that it is negotiating first with the larger operators with which it already has billing relationships.

One slightly inconvenient point, however, is that for now these operator app stores are only accessible on the handsets, and not through the main Ovi Store portal online. This is because the special tabs that direct a user to a specific carrier’s store will be triggered by that user’s SIM card. A neat trick, but that will also mean that people will not be able to sideload apps from the stores.

But what’s not clear is whether those relationships will also potentially transfer over to Windows Phone Marketplace, when this becomes the default app store for Nokia’s future smartphones. (We have reached out to Nokia asking this question, and will update this post when and if we get an answer.)

Update: A Nokia spokesperson has come back to us to say that Nokia expects to continue offering operator-branded microstores within its bigger app store when it makes the transition to Windows Phone from Symbian for the majority of its high-end devices. That main app store, he added, will be branded as a Nokia experience, rather than a generic Windows Phone Marketplace storefront.

This is not the first example of dedicated “microstores” within native app store environments: Sony Ericsson launched a similar type of shopfront within Android Market last month.

As app stores get groaningly bigger and bigger, we are likely to see more of these popping up to focus app offerings a bit more, and attempt to direct users to those apps that benefit said operator/OEM more as a business proposition: it’s much better for an operator to promote a music app in which it gets a revenue share than one that doesn’t, for example.

It will be interesting to see which of these ends up getting more audience traction: these microstores or operators’ more individual efforts?