Nokia is following in the footsteps of Apple and Google and opening an app store that will offer downloads for users of handsets running the Symbian S40 and S60 platforms.

The Ovi Store will open in May, and was described by George Linardos, vice president of product management for media at Nokia, as "a service that feeds you a constantly refreshing feed of content, personalised to you".

Users can opt for a social-networking component of the application store that shows them items that people in their contacts list have recently bought. Friends don't "have to go through this old-school process of hitting share and entering an email address", Linardos said.

Instead, items such as games or videos appear at the top of the store, telling the user which friends have recently downloaded the content.

"You're not just browsing for things to buy, but you're being fed content you want," he said. "No two people in theory are ever really seeing the same content."

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The store will also automatically feature applications based on location. For example, if a user flies to London, when the user gets off the plane the application store will highlight content that might be useful and relevant, such as London restaurant guides or Lonely Planet city guides.

Those personalisation features are aimed at solving a problem that some of the application stores, like Apple's iPhone App Store, are facing now that they have tens of thousands of applications. With such a high volume of products to choose from, users struggle to find interesting and quality applications. Users of the Ovi Store won't have to use the social-networking component and can also browse by category.

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The store has another unique feature: it will only display applications that work on the user's phone. That's key because Nokia phones come in a wide range of form factors, and some applications may not render well on all devices.

The N97 will be the first phone to come preloaded with the software for the store, and thereafter all S60 and most S40 Nokia phones will have it. By 2012, Nokia expects that the store will reach 300 million users.

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Nokia is following in the footsteps of Apple and Google and opening an app store that will offer downloads for users of handsets running the Symbian S40 and S60 platforms.

Nokia plans to open the store in May in nine countries, with continued rollouts to other regions after that. Users will be able to pay either via credit card or potentially via their monthly bill, depending on their mobile operator and the application developer.

Prior to launching the store, Nokia will open Publish to Ovi, a portal where content providers can publish their applications to the store, on March 2.

Nokia already has four million registered users in its Forum Nokia developer programme. But there hasn't really been a standard way for them to offer their applications, said Linardos.

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In addition to those developers, content creators and web companies are invited to offer applications and content to users. Facebook and MySpace say they will offer applications for Nokia phones.

The developers can choose if they want users to pay through their operator or directly by credit card, and choose regions of the world where they want their application to be distributed.

Applications will pass through a quality assurance process that ensures they don't have viruses or contain illegal content, but otherwise Nokia won't prohibit applications.

Developers will receive 70 percent of the revenue from sales and the rest goes to Nokia.

The Ovi Store is essentially a combination of three existing Nokia services: Mosh, Download and WidSets. Once the store launches, Nokia will begin offering existing phone owners ways to download it, including over the air.

Nokia has increasingly been branching out beyond phone hardware, and at times its efforts appear to conflict with its operator partners, who sometimes offer similar services. Nokia has been talking to operators about the new Ovi Store and working with some of them to enable billing, Linardos said. Ultimately, the application store is a way for operators to collect more revenue from users, he noted.

Nokia is also learning some difficult lessons about the challenges of offering services. Last week, it announced in a blog that after a cooling system breakdown in one of its data centers, the company lost data including contacts and profile photos that users store online as part of the beta Ovi Contacts offering.

See also: Nokia to slash mobile phone production