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Nokia Spreads The Lumia Love: 85k Free Devices To Developers, Bloggers

Nokia (NYSE: NOK) has pushed hard to get its first two Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Windows-based phones out before the holiday season. The industry will be watching closely to see how well the Lumia 800 and 710 sell (respectively at €420 ($589.6/£368.05) and €270 ($379.03/£236.6) without subsidies and taxes) — with all manner of promotions from operators, and from Nokia itself, lined up to get them into the hands of consumers. But for starters, Nokia is giving its device distribution a kick-start by putting out what looks to be around 85,000 devices to developers, bloggers, and “cultural influencers.”

Today, Nokia announced that it would be giving up to 25,000 Lumia handsets away free to developers who commit to building apps for the new Nokia Windows-based devices.

Later, a report in BusinessWeek notes that Nokia will be offering up to 60,000 Lumia handsets to bloggers and “cultural influencers” as part of the company’s attempt to get the word out about its new range of smartphones.

The developer news was delivered today in London at the Nokia World by Marco Argenti, Nokia’s SVP who oversees developers specifically working on apps for the Windows-based app storefront, Marketplace. One thousand of the devices are getting distributed later today; Nokia will be posting details for the rest of the giveaway later, according to WPCentral.

The blogger and “influencer” push, meanwhile, will also include “staged outdoor happenings” as well as the more usual gamut of phone marketing you see today: viral Internet campaigns, and TV, cinema and print ads, according to Steve Overman, a Nokia marketing VP.

With the developer giveaway, the move is a smart one to keep Nokia developers on side after an unstable year, which started with them working mainly on Symbian, only to then be told that this would eventually get phased out, while the MeeGo OS that had been mooted as a successor was not going go anywhere fast.

Courting developers to work on apps specifically for Nokia devices — rather than relying on an app store full of general apps for the Windows Phone platform — will be an essential part of how Nokia will hope to differentiate itself from the other Windows Phone OEMs: that list includes not only global heavy-hitters like Samsung and HTC but also handset makers like Fujitsu, Acer and ZTE, which are strong in specific regions like Asia, where Nokia has seen less attrition than it has in Europe, but is facing increasing competition.

It will be unclear how and if those apps will be usable on other Windows Phone devices in future: that increased scale, of course, would be a lure for the developers, if not a direct boost for Nokia itself.

One issue that Nokia-specific apps does raise, though, is whether it could potentially point to similar fragmentation issues that have surrounded the Android platform, which has seen forked versions implemented by different device makers and operators, as well as simultaneous use of different generations of the OS, making for a complicated landscape for developers hoping to capitalize on Android’s scales in the marketplace.

The other big issue is whether a massive free phone distribution will do the trick. This tactic has been used by a number of other handset makers when putting a new device into the market: RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) did it with the PlayBook, and HP (NYSE: HPQ) also offered developers free TouchPads in the lead-up to the commercial launch of its devices. One of those has faced very sluggish sales while the other has thrown in the towel altogether.

Ironically, today Argenti also announced that Richard Kerris, the former head of developer relations for HP’s WebOS, has now joined Nokia to help spread the word.

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