18 January 2010

Nokia Ovi Store Policies on SaaS / subscriptions: fail

(Chances are that nobody will answer this question, like it happened to this developer on forum.nokia.com, but what the hell)

I have an interesting business idea. I'll develop a mobile application with some interesting functionality, and I'll give it away for free. The application will contain an option to upload some data to a remote server, which you will then access from any computer as a regular site. The website will have some advanced features to analyze the data etc etc. The site will operate as SaaS, with a free 30-day trial. Basically, the site will make the real money, in a way similar to what FeedDemon and NewsGator tried a few years ago in a different market.

Now, if I wanted to do that on Nokia platforms, I would try and put my mobile app on the Ovi Store as a free download, right? After all, it will be a useful program in its own right, with the online services being 100% optional. Nokia / Ovi get a free, useful app enriching its (crappy) customer experience, the developer gets a big distribution channel, it's a win-win!

Except that landlords don't like uppity sharecroppers. From the Ovi Terms & Conditions:

4.7. Free Content Restriction

You are prohibited from collecting future charges from end users for Content that those end users were initially allowed to obtain for free. This is not intended to prevent distribution of free trial versions of Your Content with a later upsell option to obtain the full version of the Content. Such free trials for Content are permitted. However, if You want to collect fees after the free trial expires, You must collect all fees for the full version of Your Content through the Program. In this Agreement, "free" means there are no charges or fees of any kind for use of the Content. All fees received by You for Content distributed via the Program must be processed by Nokia.

Now, I can see the motive behind such a "racket clause". Nokia doesn't want Ovi to end up a cesspool of trialware, or to be associated with "click once and pay forever" scams. But the rule is too broad, and it reads like any SaaS scenario is simply out of the question (especially when you consider that Ovi does not support "subscriptions" at the moment, only one-off payments). SaaS is probably the best revenue model in the software world at the moment, and Nokia is telling developers they can't use it.

I honestly do not know if Apple put similar restrictions in place on their store. They probably did (and then some), control-freak as they are, and this is why I wouldn't want to touch the iPhone ecosystem with a barge pole. But Nokia was supposed to be trying hard to regain developer mindshare...

So the question I'd like to ask, before I shell out for the Ovi "publisher" license, is: dear Nokia, my application does something useful on your mobiles. It will then, optionally, send some data to my server, and I will personally collect money to have people access that data on the web, aggregated in various ways. Can I put the app on Ovi?


gpiancastelli said...

As uninformed as the next guy, I would surreptitiously point out a possible difference between the "Content" as the application software and the "content" as the data that the application software is able to process. Basically, as I see it, your mobile application is free and packed with every functionality it needs, but the advanced data processing can be obtained only through the web site, that in turn can only be accessed by paying customers. The "Content" (as per its "application software" meaning) never gets augmented by non-free upgrades or something; it's just the result of the advanced processing and the like (i.e. data, not software) that "powers" the paid users' experience.

IANAL and all the usual disclaimers apply. In particular, I haven't the slightest idea of the intended meaning of "Content" as dictated by the Ovi T&C (too lazy to click and try to understand, sorry), so I don't know if the subtle difference between application software and application data may hold.

GiacomoL said...

This is more or less what I thought too, but it's not clear; the definition of Content is extremely vague and all-encompassing: "Content" means any information or material such as services, applications, data, text, software, music, sound, photographs, images, graphics, video messages, answers, questions, comments, suggestions, hints, strategies, concepts, designs, ideas, plans or orders.

The only way to find out is to pay the publishing fee and hope that the app doesn't get rejected. Not nice.

gpiancastelli said...

Agh, well, yes, the definition is dramatically broad. However, the restriction in 4.7 is about "Content that those end users were initially allowed to obtain for free". If you don't allow to obtain advanced processing for free, e.g. on a trial period, but clearly state that those specific data (i.e. Content) coming from a.p. are served on a paid basis right from the start, you should be able to avoid that legal clause entirely.