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.