It's quite a long-running complaint, and AAS has written several articles related to this, but it's still worth repeating: when is Nokia going to replace or reform their dreadful Download! service?
The shop, which appears as an icon on most S60 phone menus nowadays, is supposed to provide a means for browsing and purchasing games and apps straight onto the phone. It's a great idea, but as it stands Download! is a mess, and has been since it was set up a few years ago.
Download! is a really good idea, but it doesn't currently live up to its potential.
So what exactly are the faults with the Download! service?
Ah, where to start. The secret of any catalogue is to organise it logically and fill it with consistently good quality content, but Download! fails in these tasks and others too.
- Recent reforms (at least on some handsets) grouped the content into "Applications", "News & Info", "Videos", "Graphics", "Games" and "Tones", which sound okay so far, but there are even more categories including "Try For Free", "What's New" and "What's Hot" which contain content that isn't necessarily in any of the previous categories.
- Software isn't where you expect it to be. Some games aren't in the "Games" folder for example, and the categories like "Try For Free", "What's New" and "What's Hot" don't even explain what kind of content they offer.
- Categories are blatantly mis-used, for example the "Videos" folder contains a Simpsons section which you would assume means video clips of the series, but it actually just has ringtones and wallpaper.
- The selection of games and apps isn't consistent from handset to handset. If you buy two S60 devices with practically identical computing abilities, you may see totally different selections available in Download! with no logical reason for it. If certain phones can run the same software, why aren't they being offered the same software?
- Ancient games like Capsule SE and Bad Day In Space are there, while more advanced (and more playable!) titles like K-Rally and Virtual Pool Mobile aren't.
- Themes are one of the most popular types of S60 download, yet there's no themes section at all.
- There's no obvious way to tell the difference between S60 and Java apps, which may matter a lot to some people (especially if there are very different S60 and Java versions of the same app).
On the left is the contents of Download!'s Videos section, but closer examination reveals that there are no videos in "The Simpsons", just ringtones and wallpaper.
Why is Download! in such a poor state?
We don't know exactly how Nokia decides upon the content of Download!, but if we had to speculate it could be because of something like this:
It's possible that Nokia have made Download! a marketplace with slots open to the highest bidders, like the take-off slots sold to airlines by airports. If that's the case, content would be appearing in Download! based on how much the publisher paid to put it there, rather than how good the content itself is. That would explain the prominence given to big name publishers like EA and Jamba, while smaller but higher quality publishers like Infinite Dreams are left out completely. It would also help explain why most of the content is cheap tat rather than anything that can stand on its own two feet, as the publishers would have spent money on buying the slot instead of developing the game.
A slot marketplace would also help to explain why the Download! catalogue is so haphazardly organised, perhaps bigger companies have bought their own separate sections so they don't have their content mixed in with the smaller publishers.
Such a marketplace might even explain the odd variation between Download! on different handset models: maybe slots are sold per handset model, so publishers with smaller budgets only pay to appear on some models.
But if there's no slot marketplace then something is seriously wrong with the Download! quality control teams, because it would mean they're picking terrible content, ignoring good content, and sticking it all together in a silly and difficult-to-navigate way.
Whatever the truth, something is seriously wrong with the content selection and organisation processes on the Download! service. S60 publishers are making content, S60 users might want to buy it, but no one is bringing these two sides together. The situation has to change, or the S60 ecosystem will continue to be a shadow of what its userbase figures say it should be.
Clicking on the "Try For Free" icon reveals a totally different category system. "Try For Free" includes games that don't appear in the main "Games" folder, and apps that don't appear in the main "Applications" folder. Very confusing and makes no sense at all.
Could a third party app store do better?
People have been moaning about Download! for ages and nothing seems to ever happen, so perhaps Nokia isn't really interested in fixing it. But S60 is an open platform and in theory anyone can set up a similar service if they want to. Could a third party step in to offer something like Download!, but do it properly?
At the moment there are two major third party companies selling S60 software: Handango and ClickGamer/ClickApps. Both of them have mobile versions of their websites, but neither of them have a Download!-style app, probably because they want to keep their shops as platform-neutral as possible.
There's also a surprising reluctance in the mobile content world to support S60 perhaps driven by the fact that most S60 owners don't know they own a smartphone, they think it's just a Nokia, Samsung, LG etc.
This lack of awareness severely restricts the number of S60 users that buy native apps, which in turn puts off developers from supporting S60. It wouldn't matter though if there was an app shop actually on the phone, because S60 users wouldn't need to know about their phone's OS in order to buy native software. All they'd have to do is click on the app shop's icon, choose whatever software they'd like to install, and the app would make sure they can only choose from compatible software. It would be fool-proof and a potential gold mine.
Although it's not perfect, the new N-Gage platform provides a much more user-friendly, consistent and intuitive way to buy apps onto your phone and communicate with other app users. Download! could learn a lot from N-Gage.
How could an in-phone content shop be done properly?
Of course it's easy to complain about something and much harder to say how things should happen instead, so here are some suggestions for how any on-phone shop should work.
A few guiding principles:
- The browsing and purchasing of content should be done through an app rather than a website, and the N-Gage app is a good example of how this can be done on S60 (though to be fair the N-Gage app seems to contain at least some online Flash Lite pages embedded in the Showroom section). App-based shops are much smoother and quicker to navigate because they only need to load the details of each item rather than the layout of the entire page, and they can even be navigated offline if the catalogue has been updated recently.
- Content submission should cost nothing (or at most a small token sum to prevent time-wasters). This would allow small-but-excellent publishers behind titles like MicroPool to get their content to a wider audience.
- However, content should only be included if it's reasonably good. Quality niche content is fine, but content without any possible appreciative audience ought to be denied access to the shop. To find out more about this issue see AAS's review of Lucky Lotto, probably the worst app ever sold by a major retailer.
- All content should be organised into a central index, for example with all games under "Games", and each category divided into smaller sub-categories if necessary.
- All content should include a concise and accurate summary of what the content is and who would enjoy it. There should also be at least one screenshot showing the content working (for example gameplay if it's a game), and demos would be welcome though not compulsory.
- All apps and games should be clearly and honestly labelled as Native S60, Java J2ME or Flash Lite. This is as important as the ingredients list on a packet of food.
- A certain amount of good quality freeware should also be on offer. While it sounds nuts for a money-making business give away free games, it does make sense because it tempts in customers who may be new to the whole process of obtaining content through their phone, or just new to that particular shop. Genuine freeware would be available at no cost to the retailer, so they wouldn't be losing anything by including it in their selection of content.
- If you're going to include customer reviews, try to have some mechanism for ensuring that only people who've bought an item can review it. The N-Gage platform's review system is open to all, and most of its "reviews" consist of comments about the demo (which is pointless as we can all play it for free) or messages that have nothing to do with the game at all.
- All purchased content should be automatically available to re-download at no extra charge (i.e. "Download Protection" should be free). The one thing that most puts people off buying downloads is the worry that they may accidentally delete it and have to re-purchase. Such fears need to be addressed if download services wish to gain new customers.
Download!'s Tones section is disturbingly empty, while its Games section seems more like a list of sponsors than a proper catalogue. How is someone meant to find a particular game if they don't know the name of its publisher? And what if someone wants a particular type of game?
How can a third party create a rival for Download! without having their shop included in firmware?
That's a very very very good question. The strength of Download! is its ubiquity, most people with an S60 phone see a Download! icon on the main menu by default, and even Series 40 phones are starting to get their own version of the service.
It would be difficult for a third party shop to reach as many people as Download! because they have no access to the firmware on phones, but there are ways to spread the word and encourage people to install a third party shop themselves:
- Be competitive with prices. It's astonishing how expensive content is in some download shops, and quite often the software's creator/publisher only get a small fraction of that money. With a smaller markup a shop could have lower prices AND more money for the creator/publisher, which would attract both customers and suppliers. It would mean less profit per sale of course, but it would also mean higher sale volumes and give everyone a clear reason to choose you instead of your rivals. The convenience of buying straight onto the handset at a low price might even tempt people who currently pirate content to actually pay for it, which would give you customers that no one else has, and grow the market in the process.
- Make the shop app easily downloadable straight onto users' phones from a very simple url (the adverts could show some desirable content and then say "To buy this app, just open your phone's web browser and go to installourshop.com" or something like that). [We do recognise not being available out of the box is, itself, a big problem - Ed].
- Give away a small amount of high quality content free of charge, then advertise the fact. If people can get something really good from your shop gratis just by installing your shop app, they may be tempted to see what else you have to offer, and perhaps tell their friends about it too.
- Sell some exclusive content. If your shop does go for lower mark-ups than your rivals' shops, that would make it much easier to negotiate an exclusivity deal with a content creator/publisher. They would be getting more money per sale and the lower overall price would increase sale volumes too, so a deal could be potentially very attractive to them.
- Have a loyalty scheme, where people who buy 10 apps get the 11th free or something along those lines. It would encourage customers to stick with that particular service, reward return customers, and in turn generate good word of mouth.
- Offer good customer service to both purchasers and content makers/publishers. There are lots of horror stories about customer service on phone content shops, so communicating well and following up complaints adequately will help a shop stand out from the crowd. People don't generally mind things going wrong if they're dealt with properly and promptly.
Even so, Nokia really ought to be doing this themselves
Despite the opportunity here for an app shop run by a third party, there's no denying that Nokia themselves have the biggest opportunity. They have the ability to include such a store in the default firmware of all their S60 devices (and Series 40 too if we include Java apps), which would give them a tremendous potential customer base.
Unfortunately all they've done recently is a ridiculously convoluted marketing campaign which didn't even work properly, and where the only reward was viewing a very short and silly video. Instead of spending money trying to recreate a weird dream they had the other night, Nokia need to come up with a service that is centred around the potential S60 app user, so that S60 app makers have an easy way to reach their customers.
It's baffling that Nokia, on the one hand, spends all this time and money on excellent developer resources, like Forum Nokia, but then, on the other hand, refuses to make their on-phone app shop actually sell all this great S60 software that has been written.
A proper on-phone app shop with an easy-to-use interface and reasonable prices could do wonders for sales of S60 software, create loyalty to S60 among existing users, tempt new users to try out S60 devices, and it could even sideline piracy if the prices were low enough and the download process was convenient enough. It would also add a heck of a lot of value to Nokia phones at very little cost, which means more hardware sales, more market share and more profits.
There are loads of reasons why Download! needs to be replaced or thoroughly overhauled, and there aren't really any reasons to keep it the way it is. There's also a huge pile of money to be made if an S60 app shop is done correctly, but the question is who will actually do it? Nokia or someone else?