Nokia gets official Tesco Grocery app. Every little helps, right?

Although I haven’t signed up to the ‘Nokia is doomed‘ story, I’m the first to recognise that the Finnish handset giant is facing many challenges, having been wrong-footed by the iPhone’s success and the subsequent shift to touch, followed by the the rise of the app store. Or, more specifically, the growing importance of third-party developers and the perception of an app eco-system amongst brands and consumers.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, I’m not overly concerned about the need for an iPhone killer or a refreshed touch-based UI. It’s apps where Nokia faces its biggest challenge.

While there will always be one iPhone, Nokia is pretty good at slicing and dicing the market and has set in motion a plan to attack the high end territory that Cupertino occupies, with MeeGo, its mobile device OS being developed in partnership with Intel no less. Again, touch is now a central part of Nokia’s future portfolio and while the UI of Symbian lags behind iPhone and others, it can and is being ‘fixed’.

The app eco-system, however, is a far bigger problem because, let’s face it, nobody really buys a Nokia for the apps. The robust hardware, yes. The huge choice of price points and form-factors, yes. The death-grip free operation, yes. The industry leading cameras, yes. But, well, apps, not so much. Or at least, that’s the perception.

Where are the major third-party brands on Nokia?

(Or more to the point, where’s my official Foursquare app!)

On that note, perhaps today’s news that Tesco, which for U.S. readers is bit like the Wal-Mart of Britain, has launched an official shopping app for Nokia’s Ovi Store, offers hope. The Tesco Grocery app lets Nokia users shop online, including being able to browse for groceries, amend their shopping lists (synced to desktop web/mobile), view their favorited items, and book a delivery. All useful stuff but also the type of app that you wouldn’t these days blink an eye at on the iPhone.

And that’s my point: Nokia badly needs major brands such a Tesco on its platform if it’s to win mind share in the app space. Depressingly for the handset maker (and their users), the rule of thumb too often is that brands develop for iPhone first, then Android, and lastly BlackBerry or possibly, if Europe-centric, Nokia’s Symbian. It’s a scenario echoed time and again by Ewan MacLeod of Mobile Industry Review, although he’ll happily explain to developers why this may be a short sighted strategy.

Interestingly, a search on Apple’s App Store drew a blank for an iPhone equivalent, although there is the ‘Clubcard’ app, also on Ovi Store, which lets Tesco customers access their loyalty card details in the form of a scannable barcode on their phone.

So, yes, every little helps and the Tesco Grocery app for Nokia is another step in the right direction.