There are still some big question marks over what Nokia plans to do in tablets — a market where it is now possibly the only major smartphone maker yet to make a device — but at least Nokia is moving ahead with the launch of tablet-friendly services. Today, it said it would begin the global roll-out of Nokia Reading, a Windows Phone app originally announced back in February for reading e-books on a Lumia device.
The company says that initial countries that will get the app are France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and the UK, with others following later this year. It is compatible with all four Lumia models: the 900, 800, 710 and 610.
Having a decent reading app on a smartphone is basically table stakes at the moment, so in that sense this app probably should have come as standard with the phones when they first started to get rolled out last year.
Nokia is perhaps hoping that its international approach will make up for launching it only now: the app will launch with a selection of titles in local languages (French, Germany, Italian, Russian, Spanish in addition to English). This is in contrast to, say, Amazon, which has taken its time in rolling out versions of the Kindle and its Kindle bookstore in languages outside of English. Indeed, as Nokia points out in a blog post on Reading, “While eBooks are becoming a common sight in countries like the US and the UK, they are still in their infancy – or basically unavailable – in many parts of the world.”
Nokia doesn’t give specific numbers for how many books it will offer in its local-language catalogues, except to note that there will be “thousands” of international classics available for free (as they are on Amazon’s Kindle store), as well as a “wide range” of local titles available in addition to translations of best-selling English-language titles. These will be include The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo; One Day; and The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, and the list is growing, Nokia says.
Nokia is also adding some discoverability elements to its Reading app. Similar to how Nokia steers people to certain apps through its “Collection” widget, in Reading the company is also pointing people to Top eBooks and New Releases, which will be categorized by genres. There is also a predictive search function in the app. And to try to make the process of reading on a smartphone a little less onerous, Nokia has also worked in features like text re-sizing and using fonts that are especially small-screen friendly.
Nokia says that other enhancements like audiobook functionality and a News Stream reading service to aggregate new feeds a la Flipboard are “already in the pipeline” and will appear as free updates.
“We have built a reading service that focuses on how people read on their mobiles,” Nokia’s product manager for the Reading app, Rhidian Williams, wrote in the post. “It’s a service that recognises that people read different kinds of content at different times of the day, and it brings this content together in a reading hub that will encourage readers to come back to it frequently.”
The big question is how and if the Barnes & Noble JV with Microsoft — which sees, among other things, Microsoft paying B&N a fee to develop e-books content specifically for Windows 8 and Microsoft taking an equity stake in B&N’s Nook tablet business — will also have an impact on what Nokia does in e-reading devices and e-books content.
So far that kind of detail has not been made public, and Nokia has declined to comment on how that relationship between Microsoft and B&N will impact its own business.