App for App: iOS versus Symbian and Nokia's Ovi Store

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It's a commonly held 'fact' that the apps in the iPhone (iOS) App Store blow away the competition, especially the young upstart that is the Ovi Store, with the latter having something like 10 times less bona fide applications. In the light of my recent editorials (e.g. here), I was curious as to how true (or false) this 'fact' is. Looking at the top selling and top freeware applications (and the best games) in the Apple iPhone App Store, how many are also available for Symbian, either directly or via an equivalent? More than you might think...

iPhone app store

Research time. And time to boot up an iPhone to take a snapshot of the iOS market. And also time to note that in compiling the tables below, I had to sift through a huge number of games or 'fun' titles, which seemed to outnumber genuine apps by a good 4 to 1 in the iOS app store. Thus the lists are human filtered and I've ignored most of the novelty/fart/gimmick apps.

Looking first at the top 15 grossing (commercial) applications in the iPhone app store, in order, as at 8th March 2011:

  iOS top selling app Description ...and on Symbian
1 Camera+ Adds scene modes, digital zoom, basic effects to the iPhone's Camera function Not needed, most of the same functionality is built into most phones
2 WhatsApp Messenger  Instant messaging WhatsApp Messenger also available, in the Ovi Store
3 Alarm Clock Pro Graphical alarm clock, plays music to wake you up, and more  The built-in Symbian Clock app can do much of this, plus there are a clutch of additional alarm clock utilities in the Ovi Store 
4 TuneIn Radio  Deluxe Internet Radio app Built into many Symbian phones, Nokia Internet Radio in the Ovi Store for those that need it. Soundtrckr, TuneWiki and others all available in the Ovi Store as well.
5 Flashlight Turns the iPhone 4's LED flash on (previous iPhones didn't have any flash) LED torch mode built into Symbian^3, there's even PhoneTorch N8, that uses the red auto-focus LED on the Nokia N8... 
6 Nike+ GPS Tracks your position when walking or running  SportsTracker has been available for Symbian for 4 years now and has more functions 
7 Amazing Sound Effects all-in-one Yes, it's a commercial 'fart' type app. Sigh. At least this one does other noise genres too. Big Sound Buttons in the Ovi Store is very similar
8 PhotoSync Wireless photo syncing to a desktop  There are many ways to copy across (and sync) images wirelessly from a Nokia/Symbian phone using PC Suite/Ovi Suite/Nokia Multimedia Transfer. We've been doing this since 2005... 
9 Star Walk Astronomy Guide Seamless, beautiful sky navigation at night  Astroller in the Ovi Store aims at the same function, but is far less polished.
10 Tasco Download Manager Plus  Workaround for the iPhone not having a file system for downloading items from the Web  Not really needed, since Symbian is based around a traditional file system and anything can be saved (or moved) anywhere you like 
11 Ringtone Designer Pro  As it sounds, trims part of a song to create a custom ringtone  Ringtone Maker, in the Ovi Store
12 Slow Shutter Cam  Apparently a camera replacement that makes it easier to create arty 'blurry' photos. Boggle. You don't need an app for this. Really. Ask Ewan if you want a blurry photo to order(!)
13 Photo Measures  Lets designers and estate agents annotate photos with dimensions. Innovative but very niche Nothing comparable on Symbian yet 
14 Weather HD  It's.... a weather app - but admittedly with sumptuous graphics, including short videos  There are loads of weather apps in the Ovi Store, though none quite as pretty!
15 Calorie Tracker Tracks your consumption and offers advice  Again, there are many fitness/diet/calorie tracking apps in the Ovi Store 


Examining the table above, it's pretty clear that, for commercial applications at least, Symbian OS and its software scene (via Ovi Store) gets very close to the iOS store in terms of popular applications and functions. It's certainly not the one-way street that the tech media love to portray.


Ovi Store front


However, Symbian has always been strong at built-in functionality and with its third party app ecosystem. Where it's arguably weaker is in free applications and clients for Internet services, so let's now turn to the top 20 free apps in the iOS store, in order, again as at 8th March 2011:


  iOS top freeware app Description ...and on Symbian
1 GasBuddy USA-specific crowd-sourced gas price database Fuel-UP! in the Ovi Store isn't as good, but has the same idea
2 Facebook Official client for Facebook There is an official Facebook client for Symbian, still available in the Ovi Store, but it seems to have been phased out by Nokia Social networking, built into all the new devices, which offers much the same interface and functions (and yes, we know that v1.3 got pulled and are eagerly awaiting its re-release). There are also a plethora of Facebook integration utilities, including Symbian stars like Socially and the commercial Gravity.
3 Pandora Radio  Custom Internet radio, only works in the USA Similar functions are, I believe available through Spotify, though you do need to sign up as a premium user, plus, as above, built into many Symbian phones and also in the store is Nokia Internet Radio. Soundtrckr, TuneWiki and others all available in the Ovi Store as well.
4 Groupon  Deals across America, vouchers, etc.  No equivalent 
5 Labelbox  Annotates photos  No direct equivalent, though the built-in photo editor on Symbian allows text annotations and clipart effects, to largely do the same job. 
6 Google Mobile  Text and voice search in Google, including Google Goggles - analysing captured objects for barcodes, images, outlines and even foreign language text No direct equivalent for modern Symbian^3 devices, although the Google Mobile app for S60 3rd Edition and 5th Edition also allowed the voice searching/input.
7 Skype  Instant messaging and VoIP  Available in the Ovi Store, works very well on Symbian
8 Netflix  Streaming TV and movies for USA-based Netflix subscribers  No direct equivalent, though BBC iPlayer does a lot in this area and for free - for UK residents 
9 Twitter  Official client for this microblogging service  No official Symbian app, but plenty of unofficial clients, including the commercial Gravity and the freeware Trill. Plus, again, the built-in Nokia Social networking.
10 CarBuzz  Mobile magazine for USA-based car enthusiasts  No direct equivalent, but many car-based news apps in the Ovi Store. 
11 WHERE  Location-based POI search tool  No direct equivalent as a third party app, but the same functionality is now in Ovi Maps, built into every phone, with the benefits of extra services and voice navigation etc. 
12 The Weather Channel  Comprehensive weather app  Again, there are loads of weather apps in the Ovi Store, though not all are free.
13 Shazam  Music detection utility  Available in the Ovi Store 
14 Applets  Small shell of smaller utilities, including voice memo, battery guage, 'days until', etc. (yawn)  Many of its functions are built into Symbian, the rest are available as small apps in the store. 
15 Bump  Internet-based file sharing tool with a novelty sensor-based trigger No direct equivalent, but then Symbian phones can simply Bluetooth files between each other, so there's no need to involve the Internet at all...? 
16 10,500 Cool Facts  As the name suggests!  There are plenty of 'Facts' apps in the Ovi Store... 
17 Textfree with Voice  Instant message and VoIP, limited to the USA, it seems  Plenty of free international solutions, including Nimbuzz and Fring.
18 Tango Video Calls  It's yet another VoIP solution, with video Fring, in the Ovi Store does the same job.
19 Find my iPhone  Cloud-based 'lost phone' location and utilities  There are plenty of apps to replicate this in the Ovi Store, though most are commercial and not freeware
20 Evernote  Client for the popular 'store useful info' service  The beta version of the Evernote client for S60 5th Edition still worked (last time I checked), though note creation only works for plain text. I do wish the developer would polish this up and get it working fully for Symbian^3 as well... 


Again, even though there are slightly more gaps here than in the top selling apps table, there's nothing here that's a showstopper for most people. Could it be that Nokia's Ovi Store and Symbian generally are not as far behind in terms of 'apps' as many people would have you believe?

What about games? At the last count, the Apple store had over 300,000 games or leisure titles. Now don't get me wrong, I've done my fair share of iPhone game reviewing (for another site, obviously) and I'd absolutely agree, hands-down, that the iPhone was totally dominant in terms of mobile gaming. 

There's little point in listing games in such an in-depth table in the same way as apps, since the actual game titles do vary hugely from platform to platform (though Angry Birds and other major franchises usually make it to other app stores). However, for interest sake, the top 5 selling and free games on the iPhone App Store as at 9 March 2011 are:

  Top-selling game Top freeware game
1 Tiny Wings  Urban Ninja 
2 Angry Birds Rat on the Run 
3 Fruit Ninja  Zynga Poker 
4 Where's Waldo?  Katy Perry Revenge 2 
5 Cut the rope  Words with Friends Free 


The canon of gaming on Symbian has come a huge way since the arrival of the Symbian^3 handsets, capacitive screens and graphics chips. Cross-platform titles like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds (from the iPhone list above) have made their way to Symbian very successfully, while we've been reviewing a fair number of really eye-wateringly good titles, including:

Worms HD

Screenshot Worms HD

Pro Evolution Soccer 2011

PES 2011



Crusade of Destiny


Raging Thunder II


And those are just a handful - see our full review list over at Ovi Gaming. Gaming on Symbian has never been healthier, despite the recent 'End of life' announcements from Nokia for the platform a year or two from now.

Although the Symbian games scene can't compare to the iPhone one, I'd argue that there's more than enough choice in this department for a new Symbian^3 smartphone owner. And, from my own research, I'd estimate that there are more games of really high quality for Symbian than for Android, the current darling of the mobile tech world. Which, again, is somewhat contrary to popular wisdom.

I'm not trying to appear as a 'fan boy' here, I'm just a writer trying to make a point. As I've intimated before, you don't need 400,000 applications in an app store. You just need enough good ones to suit most people's needs. With the extra functionality in Symbian OS (a fair proportion of all iOS 'utilities', in particular, address functions which are built into every Symbian-based phone) and with the matches in the tables above, it's apparent that the health of Symbian and its software scene (whatever bona fide criticisms you might have about the OS and its implementation) is not as bad as is often made out.

Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 9 March 2011