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Summary:

Nokia’s Ovi store has taken a perceived backseat to the iTunes App Store and Android Market. I spoke with several developers at Nokia World for their perspective on Nokia’s Ovi Store enhancements, Symbian^3, and the Qt development tools. Would you believe they were all happy programmers?

nokia-dev-summit

Nokia often touts its massive worldwide presence as a key competitive advantage in the handset market, but what does that mean for developers? Without a solid storefront experience, support from Nokia and efficient programming tools, a global brand alone won’t sell mobile apps. I spent time chatting with several third-party developers to get their thoughts on Nokia’s Ovi store, the Qt platform and Nokia’s developer support. Overall, developers are pleased that Nokia is reducing fragmentation, expanding carrier billing and providing personal support, yet in the fast-paced world of mobile apps, they’re looking for faster software approvals.

While I didn’t expect any app developers here to bash Nokia at this event, I was surprised by the both the amount of overwhelmingly positive comments and a few candid criticisms. Rani Cohen, CEO and founder of TuneWiki, has enjoyed over a million downloads of his app on the Ovi Store and said that Nokia supports his efforts like no other competitor. “We have an actual Nokia person working with us, which we don’t find on other platforms. They help us locally target advertising, giving us huge support for revenue streams we couldn’t uncover in our own small organization.”

Cohen likes the idea of carrier billing support, which Nokia says is now in place with 91 operators around the world. But the 60-40 revenue split for carrier billed sales compared to a 70-30 share for direct bill sales is a detriment for TuneWiki who wants the 70 percent developer share for both types of transaction. Cohen said, “The extra 10 percent makes a huge impact for us due to royalty payments.” Cohen’s concern makes sense for his product as TuneWiki, an app that provides synchronized lyrics to music, pays licensing fees to the music industry, which cuts into profit margins. Unfortunately, the carriers aren’t willing to modify the revenue split in favor of developers, even if Nokia is.

Turning the conversation to Qt, the cross-platform framework that Nokia acquired by purchasing Trolltech in 2008, I asked if the efficiency gains found in the new platform are as good as Nokia says. A resounding yes was the answer from the half-dozen developers I spoke with. Bob Rosin from Qik, the video sharing app, said, “Using Qt has cut our development time in half, because we can build one UI in Qt and target both Symbian^3 as well as MeeGo.” Pixlepipe CEO Brett Butterfield concurs, “Our Send and Share app was our first Symbian app. Creating the UI was painful, as every button had to be hand-created. Qt removes this problem and makes the UI much richer. Plus, the interface designed with Qt can leverage Symbian code.”

The few complaints voiced by developers centered around the Ovi store, which is still maturing. A common theme centered around a faster turnaround time for app review, so developers can iterate more often. Another opportunity lies in application analytics, but Nokia’s recent purchase of Motally should address that over time. Rosin told me that his team codes the Qik application to provide specific feedback for performance improvements and better understanding of how customers use the app.

As far as Nokia’s global presence and carrier billing efforts, they only help if developers take advantage of them. Scott Jensen, head of product marketing for Nokia’s Ovi efforts, quoted an average sales increase ranging from 18 to 22 percent when developers make their app available in a local language. I asked Rosin if Qik sales were more than double in carrier-billing markets and he replied, “They’re significantly higher than that,” although he wouldn’t provide a specific number.

Most important to me was how the developers compare their experience developing for Nokia devices vs for iOS, Android and other platforms. “Had you asked me a year ago, I would have had a long list of issues, but the Ovi Store has caught up,” Butterfield said. All the developers appreciate the lack of fragmentation brought by the new Symbian^3 platform, an issue that Android has yet to overcome due to various OS versions and hacked ROMs in the wild.

It’s almost a challenge for me to believe the many positives I heard, simply because Nokia and Ovi aren’t strong brands in the U.S. Looking from the perspective of developers that market their wares in 190 countries, however, provides a totally different picture. I’m curious to hear from everyday Nokia users though: Happy developers should foster happier Nokia customers due to richer, compelling apps that are easy to buy.

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  1. As a everyday Nokia user, I’m more impressed at the apps that do more than just add a layer to normal tasks, but enhance them. For example, I like the Gravity Twitter app because it respects the UI, reduces some of the friction in respect to managing multiple accounts, and is (for the most part) snappy.

    Many apps aren’t like that – though it is getting better.

    The other thing about Symbian/Maemo/MeeGo apps is that you are more likely to see apps from developers that don’t duplicate inherent functionality, but extend it. Especially on the Maemo/MeeGo side, this helps developers better find niches to make products that have a longer following.

  2. They just forgot to mention that individuals developpers aren’t welcome (VAT still required), that n900 and maemo are completely forgotten, that you can’t depends on any other libs than qt (forgot python qt apps)

    1. Have you read Ovi emails recently? VAT is not required for few months now. Anyone can publish.

    2. I’m pretty sure they relaxed that single developer rule recently, in addition to free Symbian signing and lower fees for publish to OVI

  3. Surprise, surprise! ;)

  4. In light of this post Kevin, would like to revisit your previous thoughts on why Nokia is a gonner in sw and apps and should humbly pledge its allegiance to Android? I just thought that now that app developers for the other 190 countries have had their 2 cents maybe you have changed your mind.

    What says Kevin?

    1. Fair question, but to be honest, I’m still trying to absorb everything I heard at Nokia World before I provide any in-depth thoughts. Having said that, I see that developers are happy with the Ovi store changes and Qt. But I also see that these same developers are casting a wide net, i.e.: with iOS, Android and other platforms. That’s to be expected of course – I’d do the same if I were them. And it’s valid point that Nokia developers can sell software in far more countries than they can for Apple or Google devices. That’s likely to change over time, however.

      A short thought: I heard much at Nokia World that says Nokia isn’t giving up by any means and it has a long-term strategy. Is there enough time to wait for that strategy to unfold, is the question I’m grappling with. ;)

      1. I agree with your points Kevin. The next year will be critical for Nokia, especially to see the uptake of the latest Symbian smartphones in regions where Nokia is strong – Asia and EMEA. Also, 2012 will be important from the perspective of Meego devices and their impact.

        I feel that Nokia’s performance between now and end of 2012 will speak for itself. In the interim it will be interesting to see how Apple and Android evolve, especially with the coming of Windows Mobile 7 and the efforts that companies like Samsung and HTC will devote to Windows devices taking resources away from Android.

        A very interesting and exciting 2 yrs ahead of us. :-)

  5. @Kertan – You just forgot to mention that you know not what you are talking about.

    The afore mentioned Gravity application is designed, developed and distributed by an individual, Jan Ole Suhr. However, as a responsible person, Jan Ole has a registered legal entity which allows him to operate as a business and have a VAT like any VAT paying entity. He pays taxes to the German government and benefits, with his family, by the benefits the state offers in return. Therefore, although he is an individual developer by any reasonable judging criteria, he never had any problem making business with Nokia and selling apps through Ovi Store.

    There is this weird misconception however that “individuals” cannot be legal entities, that they cannot pay VAT and income tax. Since when individual developer equals tax evasionist?

    Still, apparently without your knowledge, Nokia as long since aligned to the practices promoted by its competitors and “individuals” are now welcomed to the store, where they can also benefit from free signing. There might be a form which, for legacy reasons, asks for a VAT number, but if you give it a try you will find that 0 is a valid VAT.

    For more information, pay a visit to Forum Nokia, Nokia’s developer community website, and browse the Distribute section.

  6. Hamranhansenhansen Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Nokia doesn’t have anything to tempt me away from my iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air. However, I have always thought Nokia is in a much better position than Android. They’re almost 10 times more profitable than Android, they have much better hardware, and Nokia has control of its own destiny, they can fix their own problems. If Nokia developers are writing these QT apps in C like iOS developers then that is another advantage over Android’s baby Java apps. I think Android benefited too much from Apple and Silicon Valley coattails, but they have not delivered the iPhone-but-from-Google that the hype promised.

    1. I’m with you, exactly. Nokia makes nothing that will tempt me to give up my iPhone, Zune HD or Macbook Pro ( or any iPad owners, their iPads), but hey, the more competition the better for everyone, right?
      I wish Nokia well in their endeavors.

    2. If you look at the new Nokia Qt SDK [http://www.forum.nokia.com/Develop/Qt/] it does have a Macintosh version. I haven’t tried it out yet, and there are some limitations (for instance you can only compile for Maemo at the moment) [http://wiki.forum.nokia.com/index.php/Nokia_Qt_SDK_v1.0_Beta#Limitations], but it is clearly a focus for Nokia to support development for Nokia products both from Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.

  7. As a OSX/iOS developer the Nokia SDK is interesting as there is some common ground (c/c++). Also having worked with Qt in the past it provides a much nicer object model than native C++, much like Objective-C.

    The downer is that the Nokia SDK seems Windows-only while iOS developers use mac. If Nokia would fix this they could target iOS developrs.

    Also remember there is a body of Qt developers already out there as the KDE for Linux is Qt based like most software written for KDE.

    1. Nokia Qt SDK is available also for Mac and Linux. The Mac version says beta, but so was Windows version while ago, and I heard it being usable still.

      Just go to http://www.forum.nokia.com/Develop/Qt/ and hit Download.

      So, actually, it’s the opposite: developing for iPhone requires you to buy a Mac first. ;-)

    2. The Nokia QT SDK runs on Mac OSX 10.6 just fine. The 1.0.1 release just added remote compiling for Macs too so you’re pretty much good to go. Linux and Mac users have to remote compile to target Symbian.

      On Windows you don’t have to use the remote compiler but that’s about it as a difference.

      http://www.forum.nokia.com/Develop/Qt/Tools/

  8. I used to have a Nokia E90 Communicator which was a great phone. Back then it was THE smartphone. I couldn’t even get it in my country (Australia) I had to import it myself. The biggest downside of it was the $1,000+ pricetag, not the restrictive development environment or the lack of an apps store. Price, just price.

    When it was stolen I replaced it with a Nexus One for $500+. I don’t regret it’s loss now. And I can’t see myself going back to a manufacturer who so consistently over-prices their hardware. I just don’t think they get it.

    Now that Android has a head start with the app-store I just don’t see Nokia being able to overcome the inertia. The one thing that would save them is changing to Android as an OS, but I know they are NOT going to do that.

    1. “Now that Android has a head start with the app-store I just don’t see Nokia being able to overcome the inertia.”

      But wasn’t this the exact argument by those last year who said, “Now that the iPhone has a head start with the app store, I just don’t see Android being able to overcome the inertia”? But have you seen recent sales figures?

      Android’s biggest advantage is not its technology – MeeGo’s is clearly better IMHO, though not yet as mature – but that it’s multi-vendor. That, not the size of the app store, is more likely to be Nokia’s biggest challenge IMHO.

      (My son waffled between a Nexus One and a Vibrant, finally choosing the latter, and he’s very fond of it. I still thoroughly enjoy my N900, though. ;-)

      1. Exactly. Android is a multi-vendor OS and at this point it can only be beaten by another multi-vendor OS. If Symbian and Meego continue to be used only by Nokia, they will both not stand a chance against Android against Android.

        I think there are only 2 OS’s that can compete with Android in the long term and those are Windows Phone 7 and Meego.But there is one condition – that they get adopted by as many and as powerful companies as the ones adopting Android.

        If there isn’t some kind of unofficial alliance between vendors to use either Windows Phone 7 or Meego for all their devices, then none of them will stop Android.

        The battle at this point is not about which OS is better. It’s about which OS gets the most support from vendors.

      2. That would be the case if any of those vendors had made impact on Nokia’s share over the last ten years. They haven’t.

        To put it in context, Apple and RIM (who, by the way, are also the sole vendors of iOS and Blackberry OS respectively) are numbers two and three. Nokia outsells them combined.

  9. Shane McLaughlin Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Kevin, thanks for the piece. Glad to see you are taking a more broad perspective of the 190 countries where Nokia developers work and live. There are many reasons we are still very much in the game…one of the biggest is that the new chief is a software guy who has lived Steve Ballmer’s mantra “developers developers developers.”

    If you haven’t seen it, head of Ovi Store Marco Argenti created a blog which spells out the developer improvements in more detail and I invite everyone to have a look.

    http://blogs.forum.nokia.com/blog/ovi-publisher-alert/2010/09/15/ovi-store-announcements-nokia-world

  10. Symbian (and eventually MeeGo) are “just another platform”. Although there aren’t many OS/platforms today (a few on phones and a few on desktop), developers must leverage multi-platform development tools because any market slice is still money.

    Tired of trying to get up to speed with Eclipse’s EMF, I am now building up my multi-platform development environment with AtomWeaver. This is actually a very generic tool, applying ABSE, a form of model-driven software development, competitor to Eclipse’s EMF. I can build models of platform-independent abstractions to my code, that later get translated into platform-specific code. OK, I have to do it for every platform once, but then I can reuse.

    For now I have to cope with the tool’s limitations, as it has been recently made publicly available. But this is my strategy, and while I consider Nokia/Symbian a “me too” platform, I will continue to support it.

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