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Nokia's Million-dollar Challenge to Developers

Nokia (s nok) President and CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo in his CES keynote this morning highlighted the company’s global role in the mobile world. It’s a role that likely fits Nokia more than any other handset maker — with the world’s largest market share of feature phones, Nokia devices are seemingly everywhere. Kallasvuo also posed to developers a global challenge focused on human progress in developing regions.

Why continue with lower-end devices in this age of the superphone? The complex answer, according to Kallasvuo, boils down to a simple concept: Mobile technology is providing “the will and the means” for human progress in developing areas. And to show how serious Nokia is about such a concept, Kallasvuo announced a million-dollar bounty available to mobile app developers to support it.

Nokia is partnering with “Sesame Street” in a contest dubbed Calling All Innovators, designed to show that developers can “do good business and do good” at the same time. The winner of this Global Economy Venture Challenge will be chosen in June, and will get a million dollars. Kallasvuo made it clear that the money isn’t a gift or a prize — rather, it’s an investment in a winning idea that will improve lives and support upward mobility through technology. And he cited a long list of examples as to what might make a winning app.

Among them were several scenarios in which the simple mobile phone “brings hope and higher living standards” to third world markets. Crop monitoring, pricing, weather tracking and the sending of currency from a handset are promising types of applications for developing areas, according to Kallasvuo. Today, many of these tasks can be done with Nokia Life Tools on a basic phone costing $32 — still a large sum in developing areas, but the investment can pay dividends. Advanced apps like Nokia Tej on a basic handset allow for supply chain orders through mobile phones, removing paperwork and other obstacles in already challenged lands.

[related-posts align=”right” tag=”nokia”] Kallasvuo also delved into how exactly Nokia can implement a “one size does not fit all” product line. He said that one key element is the “cultural anthropologist approach” taken by Jan Chipchase, a Nokia design engineer who might have more frequent flyer miles than Kallasvuo himeslf. Chipchase’s office is quite literally the entire world — he travels widely to “learn the context of things that people do everyday.” For example,  in some countries, phones are shared, which has implications for personal information, contacts and preferences. And in areas where illiteracy is prevalent, new input methods must be designed.

Nokia’s global approach is probably most visible through its Ovi services, Kallasvuo said, which aren’t a household name here in the U.S., although the company did announce that Ovi is now open to AT&T (s t) devices. Ovi is addressing a challenge, as 75 percent of the population in many regions lack email access — something many of us take for granted on a daily basis. More than 5 million Ovi mail accounts have been set up in its first year, according to Kallasvuo, with China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Chile the biggest adapters so far.

So are you interested in entering Nokia’s million-dollar challenge? If so, submissions will be accepted starting Monday, Feb. 1st. You can review this year’s concept categories here.

11 Responses to “Nokia's Million-dollar Challenge to Developers”

  1. Nokia is trying to help the developing world and you people have a problem with it? When did the other smartphone competitors try to do the same?
    Have you even seen the research Nokia does for the so-called “low-end” phones/markets?
    It is not all about smartphones. Maybe it is in the US but not in other parts of the world.

  2. Kinda true that the iPhone can easily outclass any ‘feature-phone’ from Nokia. And yes, it is indeed software that has become the basis of differentiation with hardware becoming increasingly commoditized. However, I am sceptical on the extent to which hardware costs can come down realistically. These markets are indeed low margin, but volumes are indeed significant. India’s adding over 15mn subs on an average every month and Nokia’s got in excess of 40% market share. iPhone was launched in India a couple of years back, but has met with limited success, despite the fact that share of Nokia’s smartphones continued to be stable. My point is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and the iphone certainly cannot lay claim to that title.
    Nokia’s foray into services/apps is again visible in emerging markets more than the smartphone apps. Something like the lifetools offers access to “must-have” services, as opposed to “nice-to-have” apps and all of those are available on a monthly plan. I don’t have figures to validate, but I presume these have decent margins.
    I am no Nokia fanboy either (am typing this on a mac and I own an iPhone). However, I believe there’s space for quite a few players. The war’s prolly over, but the battle definitely ain’t :-)

  3. i think the truth is more along the lines of, as soon as any worker can afford a smart/uber phone, they will choose the best phone they can afford. maybe it will be a 3rd world version of the iphone based on the cheaper, original spec iphone. Apple already has channels in 90 countries, 26 languages and with 100k apps available for the platform, it can and does MORE than a Nokia “feature phone” ever could hope to.

    i am not a iphone fanboy, just a realist. all Apple has todo is re-release the original iphone in the 3rd world and the entire platform multiplier of the app store will make “feature phones” look like a child’s toy.

    my point is clear, apple’s software model can encompass the lower market as soon as Moore’s law kicks in. as raw HW costs of the older min spec iphones drop what would stop it from being the std handset?

    in light of this, why would i, as an analyst, suspect any user, with access to either a “feature” or uber phone, if at the same price, not select the easiest one to use, understand and of most utilitarian nature?

    i offer, within 36 months, their will be no HW price barrier to re-producing a 1st gen, original spec, iphone, which can run the same iphone OS and all the apps available as of my writing this.

    i offer, all phones will soon be uber phones. In this world of cheap uber phones the only differentiator left is software. And software is Apple’s ace up the sleeve and they have more sleeves that i can wrap my head around.

    but if i were Jobs i would let Nokia educate (illiteracy is also a huge issue) and frustrate the 3rd world with Symbian OS and then cherry pick the strongest consumers as they mature out and keep apple’s GREAT margins. instead of giving 3rd world phones away at cost.

    speaking of costs, what kind of margins is Nokia expecting on 3rd world “feature” phones anyway?

    for me, writing is on the wall…

  4. Nokia sure is behind the curve when it comes to smartphones. But when it comes to having a finger on the pulse of emerging markets, the company is indeed right up there at the top. While these markets might not be the ones where people take $70+ monthly data plans, however, they do play a crucial role in the overall scheme of things. The company’s brand in this case plays a huge factor. People get started with a low-cost but highly reliable Nokia phone and once their disposable income increases, they go back to Nokia for a high-end feature phone! And these markets are the reason why Nokia is not going to vanish any time soon. Sure, they need to clean up their smartphone strategy and carrier relations if they are to make a mark in the US handset market.

  5. if you can’t beat them, play a different game… the writing is on the wall for Nokia.

    my main questions is, if i, a veteran of all Nokia phones, can’t make sense of the Symbian OS, how is a 3rd world worker going to? I am serious, i dare you to use and iphone OS for a day or two and then pick up a Symbian based “feature” phone. it’s a PAINFUL experience. truly painful.

    “feature phone” is code for lowend phones for the third world and our grandparents. Or, in other words, hardware, Nokia’s special sauce, has become such a commodity now, that it is a race to the bottom on cost. Nokia can’t win the software game coming from so far behind against apple and google. a shame really considering the early work they did on the n770 that should have spring boarded them if they took Linux seriously back then.

    just think about it, Nokia, leader of mobile phone market for the last decade, just missed the first, second and maybe third set of the biggest most important waves to hit the mobile industry ever and they sit around talking about 3rd world markets? truth is Nokia innovation is lazy, fat and drunk on the beach. Nokia, aging big kahuna come philanthropist?

    http://www.technolosophy.com/2009/08/is-the-nokia-n900-too-little-t.html

  6. “Nokia devices are seemingly everywhere”

    Everywhere? They’re not everywhere in the U.S., and while they led the growth of mobile handsets during the GSM boom, North America, thanks to RIM, Apple and now Google (Android) and others have captured the momentum going into this next decade.

    It will take more than a million dollar challenge to help NOK. They’re sliding downhill fast.

  7. So, all this kind-heartedness, is that why they sue Apple? Or is it because they now have a lawyer as a CEO and a mining engineer/MBA in charge of handsets, and that’s the way they understand to do business?